Clinton Renews Call For Construction Funds
President Clinton is again proposing that the federal government spend $3.7 billion on a five-year program to help districts build or renovate school facilities.
The president's upcoming fiscal 2001 budget proposal will also call for a new, $1.3 billion "emergency renovation fund" that would issue grants and loans to cover urgent school repairs, the White House announced last week.
The $3.7 billion proposal is one that Mr. Clinton, Department of Education officials, and dozens of Democratic lawmakers have promoted to no avail for the past three years.
With Mr. Clinton now in the final year of his presidency, this will be his last chance to secure such funding.
In his announcement, Mr. Clinton called the growing problem of overcrowded and decaying school buildings "a crisis in education."
His plan would provide interest-free loans to districts that passed school construction bonds. That would allow districts to invest about $24.8 billion in building or renovating up to 6,000 schools, according to the White House.
In addition, the emergency fund would support about $7 billion in urgent repairs for about 8,300 schools in high-poverty areas over a five-year period.
Mr. Clinton's plan is almost certain to again face challenges on Capitol Hill. Some congressional Republicans are adamant that the federal government stay out of what they perceive as strictly a state and local issue; others are interested in revamping the federal tax code to help districts find financial relief in borrowing and paying for new construction.
Rep. Bill Archer, R-Texas, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, issued a written response to the president's proposal last week in which he stated that he would continue to consider school construction a top priority, but only in tax-relief legislation.
"I hope this year ... the president works with us to enact a school construction initiative into law—we need to get this done," Mr. Archer said.
Last year, Congress and Mr. Clinton agreed to expand funding for Qualified Zone Academy Bonds, which provide grants to schools in low-income areas that have partnered with local businesses. But to the disappointment of many educators, the two sides did not agree on a broad-based plan to ease school construction costs.
School officials have long sought federal assistance for their construction projects. Last year, Department of Education data showed that the average age of school facilities nationally was 42 years.
Department officials went on to say that the condition of most buildings declines rapidly after 40 years.
The department also noted that a record 52.7 million students are enrolled in U.S. schools. That number is expected to continue rising, to 54.3 million students in 2008.
Vol. 19, Issue 17, Page 24