Legislation seeks $300-million bond to continue critical school construction progress
Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner today joined co-sponsors Senator Hanna Gallo, Senator Sandra Cano, and Representative Brandon Potter, as well as educators, students, and community members to announce legislation that will extend and expand the once-in-a-generation investment in Rhode Island's school buildings developed by the state School Building Task Force co-chaired by Treasurer Magaziner and overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2018.
"Four years ago, we embarked on an ambitious plan to repair or replace every structurally deficient school in the state because all students deserve equal access to a high-quality education, and poor school facilities should not be a barrier," said General Treasurer Seth Magaziner. "Despite incredible progress in a short period of time, there are still thousands of children across Rhode Island attending schools that are old, unsafe, and poorly equipped. We need to continue prioritizing school modernization until all students in Rhode Island are attending schools that are safe, warm, and built for 21st-century learning."
The legislation will include a $300 million statewide bond proposal for voters to consider on the 2022 ballot as well as extend incentive funding for early childhood education facilities, career and technical education facilities, and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) facilities.
"Our historic investment in 21st-century school buildings has already produced some amazing results in communities across our state," said Senator Hanna M. Gallo. "Projects in Cranston, West Warwick, East Providence, and beyond have shown Rhode Islanders what is possible. It's critical that we build on the enthusiasm that's been generated and keep the momentum going because there are many other schools in need. Every child deserves a safe, engaging, and modern place to learn and grow. And our educators, who make such an extraordinary difference in young people's lives, deserve classrooms and buildings worthy of their incredible work."
The proposed legislation will also include significant new incentives for energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements to public school buildings, in keeping with the state's Act on Climate goals to achieve a net-zero emission economy. The legislation will also include new incentives for school districts to employ local contractors and minority business enterprises on school construction projects.
"Education transformed my life and opened the door to so many opportunities. We owe it to every student, in every community across our state, to provide the best possible chance at success," said Senator Sandra Cano. "To accomplish this, it's essential to have safe, secure, and modern schools. This bond proposal is so important for our state and its future. I'm especially excited about the new and expanded incentives, which will enhance educational programs and help ensure the benefits of this work reach all Rhode Islanders."
The Rhode Island Department of Education commissioned an engineering study in 2017 that cataloged more than 50,000 deficiencies across the state's 306 public school buildings. Treasurer Magaziner was asked by then-Governor Gina Raimondo to co-chair the state's School Building Task Force that brought together educators, experts, and community stakeholders to develop a once-in-a-generation plan to rebuild Rhode Island's schools.
"This is an opportunity to better provide the safe, comfortable, and up-to-date facilities that children need and deserve, and to do it in a way that reflects our commitments to sustainability – both in terms of the environment and human capital. Our whole state benefits from investing in healthy, energy-efficient school buildings where the next generation will have a great learning environment, and we can put Rhode Islanders to work fairly in well-paying jobs building them," said Representative Brandon Potter (D-Dist. 16, Cranston). "There isn't any question that our school buildings need significant investment. We will leverage much greater benefits when we conduct this major undertaking according to values we've identified as important to our state: meeting our carbon reductions goals and ensuring that employment and state contracts are fair and inclusive."
The state School Construction Plan has since allocated more than $1.7 billion in funding to repair or replace 189 school buildings across 28 Districts in Rhode Island. These schools serve more than 101,800 students annually and the projects to repair or replace the schools have created more than 28,000 jobs.
"If we could get brand new state-of-the-art buildings with some of the resources seen in new schools such as the new East Providence High School, it can really change education in Rhode Island," said Marteen Lopes, a student at the William E. Tolman Senior High School in Pawtucket. "Students all over Rhode Island will have access to all the resources they need to succeed, from pre-K all the way through high school. Students will be able to learn in a more enjoyable environment, which will most likely lead to better academic performance. Aside from academics, I believe it would also lead to an increase in club membership and even better athletics. I'm very excited to see what the new schools will look like and how they will ultimately affect Rhode Island."
Treasurer Magaziner released a school construction progress report in March 2021 that outlined school construction projects to date throughout the state.