Fix America’s Schools Today (FAST) proposal would create jobs and economic demand

The country needs jobs and economic demand. Here’s a simple way to fill some of the gap: fix the nation’s school facilities. Over the summer, Mary Filardo of the 21st Century Schools Fund, Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute developed the Fix America’s Schools Today proposal (PDF), which is a scalable program to address serious infrastructure needs in public K-12 schools that would emphasize using our nation’s idle construction workforce more than putting money into new equipment or building materials. They started out suggesting a $20B program paid for with the end of fossil-fuel tax giveaways ($46 B over 10 years, so there’s plenty of margin over that). And given the typical low-bid construction of 40-year-old school buildings (think single-pane windows, minimal insulation if any), the costs would be partly repaid in the long term by energy savings.

Skittish about the cost, despite the explanation above? Consider this: financial markets are now effectively paying the federal government to borrow money, with short-term borrowing costs below inflation and a ten-year yield for treasuries at zero. As Ezra Klein points out (first of those two links), this is a situation of essentially cost-free borrowing for the federal government.

But let’s not stop there. There’s some room for modifying FAST in the following ways:

  • It can include fixing up problematic or decrepit private K-12 schools as well as problematic or decrepit public schools.
  • It can include fixing up preschools and other early childhood program facilities (almost all of which are private).
So if you are a fan of Catholic schools with declining facilities, this is a vehicle for helping to fix up private schools. The formulas here would have to be adjusted from what Bernstein et al. have proposed for the private K-12 schools, but that’s probably not too hard. The point is that we have thousands upon thousands of idle construction workers and thousands of schools needing repairs.