The Clinton administration created the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities to help keep track of the nation's enormous needs for construction and maintenance of schools.
Now, with Republicans in charge, the organization is hoping to secure its future as part of the congressional reauthorization of federal education research programs. Several major education groups and states are urging Congress to make the clearinghouse a permanent fixture of the U.S. Department of Education.
The Bush administration has not advocated federal aid for school construction, and NCEF officials worry that the administration or congressional Republicans could target the clearinghouse, based in Washington, for cuts or closing.
The NCEF, which opened in 1998 under a five-year contract from the Education Department, provides information on all aspects of school facilities, from financing to design and maintenance. Democrats, as part of their push for federal school construction aid, wanted a research arm that would help gather and disseminate such information.
While the organization was a bit obscure at first, NCEF officials say that many more people are now finding and using their resources. More than 20,000 people visit the clearinghouse Web site each month. And school architects and state-facility coordinators are constantly asking for information, said Judy Marks, the NCEF's associate director.
Currently, the Education Department's 16 other clearinghouses are included in the law authorizing its research arm. The department has used discretionary money, $1.14 million in fiscal 2002, to pay for the NCEF.
The NCEF was not included in the House version of the research legislation, which was passed in May. This fall, the Senate is expected to consider its version of the bill, and the NCEF's supporters say they've gotten positive responses from some senators.
More than 60 groups signed a letter of support for the clearinghouse that was sent to the Senate. The letter says that the "NCEF is widely respected as a premier provider of information."
Under its contract, the clearinghouse has money to continue until September of next year, and it could continue indefinitely with discretionary funds from the Education Department. The advantage of having a permanent authorization would be not only for a guarantee of its future, but also for planning and contracting with other research groups, Ms. Marks said.
—Joetta L. Sack [email protected]
Vol. 22, Issue 2, Page 6