For years, we and others have noticed as school buildings have gone without needed maintenance to the point of major damage. Today, U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D) joined Clark County School District (CCSD) Trustees here in Las Vegas to talk public education and public infrastructure. Cortez Masto also talked up some actual legislation to do something about our aging education infrastructure.
As education and infrastructure have become bigger issues in the 2020 campaign, we might as well take a look at what’s actually happening here at home right now.
“She was sad that she couldn’t use the playground. She wasn’t able to take advantage of the full playground apparatus.”
– Principal Stacey Scott Cherry, on a student’s reaction to the closed playground
I first became aware of CCSD’s school infrastructure problems in October 2014. The following spring, then Governor Brian Sandoval (R) and the Nevada Legislature approved bills to enable the extension of school bonds for construction and maintenance projects. While this has helped CCSD and other Nevada school districts in taking on the long backlog of capital improvement projects, reports continue to surface on everything from broken air conditioning units to gravelly playgrounds. Here’s another way to look at it: The 2015 school bond “rollover” has allowed CCSD to develop a $4.1 billion budget for capital improvement over the next decade, but the total cost for construction and maintenance needs is estimated at $10.1 billion.
At Mabel Hoggard Math and Science Magnet Elementary School in West Las Vegas, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto toured the facility with CCSD officials. These CCSD officials pointed out the small parking lot that the school outgrew long ago, the aging plumbing infrastructure all around, and the playground that’s been closed because the loose gravel has become too dangerous.
Mabel Hoggard Elementary School Principal Stacey Scott Cherry shared the story of Autumn, a Mabel Hoggard student who was excited to transfer into the school two years ago. But then, according to the principal, “About two weeks into the school year, she was sad. She was sad that she couldn’t use the playground. She wasn’t able to take advantage of the full playground apparatus.”
“I went to public schools here in Clark County. I understand that we now live in a place where 68% of our schools are 20 years old or older. We’ve got to invest in that infrastructure here.”
– Senator Catherine Cortez Masto
In the opening days of the 116th Congress, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto signed on as a cosponsor to the Rebuild America’s Schools Act introduced by Senator Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island) in the Senate, and by Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia) and Don Norcross (D-New Jersey) in the House. On the House side, Reps. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas), Susie Lee (D-Las Vegas), and Steven Horsford (D-North Las Vegas) have also signed on as cosponsors. If it becomes law, the Rebuild America’s Schools Act will fund $70 billion in grants in $30 billion in bond money that will be distributed to school districts to upgrade both physical and digital infrastructure.
For Cortez Masto, this issue is very personal: “I went to public schools here in Clark County. I understand that we now live in a place where 68% of our schools are 20 years old or older. We’ve got to invest in that infrastructure here.”
Before she began the tour to see for herself the playground, the plumbing, and the parking lot, Cortez Masto declared, “We have to make sure [students] are not in trailers, that the air conditioning works, that the roof isn’t leaking and causing a disruption in the classroom, that there’s not mold or another public health risk affecting our kids. I think that’s worth supporting, and that’s what this bill does.”
“I think that investing in our school infrastructure makes sense. It is not a partisan issue.”
– Senator Catherine Cortez Masto
Last Saturday, fellow U.S. Senator and 2020 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) spoke of his desire to invest in a national infrastructure improvement and public works program during his campaign swing in Southern Nevada. When fellow Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) campaigned here last month, she touted her public infrastructure plan and detailed her version of the “Green New Deal” that’s quickly become a rallying cry for many progressive activists. Meanwhile on the other side of the aisle, the Trump administration’s penchant for scheduling “infrastructure weeks” has become national political reporters’ punchline due to President Donald Trump’s fleeting interest in “infrastructure”.
When I asked Cortez Masto whether the Rebuild America’s Schools Act can help bridge the divide between Trump’s touting of “infrastructure” and her Democratic colleagues’ desire to invest in ambitious public works projects, she struck an upbeat note: “I think that investing in our school infrastructure makes sense. It is not a partisan issue.” She continued, “[We can] work together to ensure that in the future, they can succeed in a 21st century environment that we are moving into right now.”
While the Trump administration continues to make vague promises on “infrastructure” without a realistic plan to fulfill any of those promises, several of the Democrats running against him are talking up much bigger public works plans that excite activists, but sometimes feel nearly as vague as a White House “infrastructure week” event.
Cortez Masto’s visit to Mabel Hoggard Elementary School reminds us that infrastructure is indeed a real issue, and a real issue in need of real solutions. As Principal Stacey Scott Cherry described her school, “The physical building is 67 years old. I like to say the school is gently used and greatly loved.” She also made this simple request: “We simply need the infrastructure to support all the needs of the students of our campus.”