Rep. Bobby Scott gearing up for battle on child care, school construction funding as infrastructure bill proceeds
As rumblings of unease over President Biden’s $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill emerge from the Senate, Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott says he’s gearing up to fight for its child care and workforce development programs — as well as a critical bricks-and-mortar need.
That bricks and mortar need is school buildings. And coming from a state where the median age of schools is 50 years, well above the national average, it’s a big concern for Scott, D-Newport News who chairs of the House Education and Labor Committee.
“If we had $100 billion, that might replace maybe 2% of the nation’s schools,” he said. “And I have to caution, I don’t think we can get that, but I’m working hard for this.”
Whether new builds or renovations, school construction is a classic kind of spending on public facilities, and like highways, bridges or airports, generates high-paying jobs, Scott said.
But other parts of the $3.5 trillion bill would also fund needed infrastructure, even if those facilities don’t necessarily involve new steel and concrete, he said.
There’s child care and pre-kindergarten education, for instance, Scott said.
“Now that schools are back today and tomorrow, I think we’ll see more people going back to work,” he said. “But if you can’t get child care, or you can’t afford child care, it doesn’t matter how many job openings there are, you’re not going back to work.”
But he’s concerned that there’s pressure coming to cut the total size of the program, and he expects tough negotiations over how much particular programs are allocated and for how long they’ll run.
Last week, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., called for a pause in congressional action on the initiative now that legislation setting out a framework for the $3.5 trillion program passed both the Senate and House of Representatives, and legislators gear up to work on the details of spending.
For Scott, besides child care and school construction, another priority is the infrastructure initiative’s promise of funding for workforce development programs, like the apprenticeship programs on the Peninsula.
So, too, are programs to help people afford community college, he said.
Virginia’s colleges have been pioneers with such career-oriented certificate programs, he said.
“But you’ve seen those studies that many families can’t afford a $400 emergency bill,” he said. “If a program costs $1,000, it might as well be $100,000 for them.”
Scott said the American Rescue Plan enacted earlier this year includes important programs to help students make up for lost time.
The infrastructure bill extends that help with the idea of getting the nation back to work, he said.
“It will be transformational,” Scott said.