Rep. Aaron Regunberg joined members of the Providence Student Union along with teachers, parents and community members at a State House news conference today to call for increased funding to repair the state’s deteriorating school buildings.
Participants in the event, which was organized by the Providence Student Union, urged state leaders to end the state’s school housing aid moratorium and increase funding for school building construction and repair in the state budget. Youth from the Providence Student Union donned yellow hard hats to reflect the danger of attending crumbling schools. Students spoke of pieces of ceilings regularly falling down during class and dodging buckets of rainwater that drips through roofs all over their schools. They, along with teachers, administrators and parents, argued that in addition to posing obvious dangers, such disrepair is detrimental to learning, serving as a distraction, sometimes even interfering with students’ ability to hear their teachers clearly, and creating a dispiriting, rundown atmosphere
The groups supported Gov. Gina Raimondo’s budget proposal to lift the moratorium and include $20 million for new projects in the coming year. But participants argued that even more funding is necessary, and urged passage of legislation to provide additional resources, such as a bill (2015-H 5434) sponsored by Representative Regunberg to create a $70 million trust to continually generate funding for school repairs.
Representative Regunberg’s legislation would establish the Rhode Island Health and Educational Building Corporation, which would oversee distribution of funds generated by the trust for school construction and would be responsible for developing and implementing a formula for borrowing and issuing loans and grants to districts. By conducting a comprehensive assessment of the state’s schools and prioritizing the projects with the greatest need, the new process would ensure resources were being used in the most effective way possible. The corporation would also administer a new school building assistance program that would develop general policy and review standards that encourage and foster the thoughtful establishment and maintenance of school facility space and provide flexibility to address the needs of individual communities.
Representative Regunberg, who served as a co-founder of the Providence Student Union, said that, indeed, more money is needed to fix years of unaddressed deterioration in schools all over the state, and his legislation is aimed at spending that money wisely, in ways that encourage the construction and maintenance of schools to ensure Rhode Island’s youth have the basic guarantee of a educational space that promotes, rather than detracts, from their learning and wellbeing.
“We absolutely cannot keep putting off construction projects any longer, because the state of disrepair at many schools is a safety hazard and an impediment to learning. I am glad we have the chance today to hear from the people most affected by our current school construction policies – parents, teachers, and most of all students. There are numerous proposals to address this situation; I have legislation in the House, the Senate has legislation, and the Governor has a proposal. We’re all here today to send a message that it is a moral necessity as well as good educational and economic policy that some version of these proposals, with significant new funding for school construction, be included in our final budget.”