In his first public school visit since being named U.S. education secretary, Arne Duncan went to Arlington, Va.'s Wakefield High School as part of a public relations push to get Congress to restore $16 billion in school construction money eliminated from the Senate version of the economic stimulus package.
The outdated high school, built in 1953, is set to be rebuilt in 2013 (not exactly “shovel-ready,” but Arlington superintendent Robert Smith told me they could certainly speed things up with some stimulus money.) Duncan stopped by a class that prepares students for Advanced Placement classes (in which some of the students should get kudos for asking tough questions, like: Isn’t money for school construction only going to resort in short-term stimulus, so how’s that going to help us in the long-term?)
In a press conference after his tour, he then declared that the actions on the Hill in the next 24, 48, and 72 hours are crucial. “It’s going to shape education for years to come,” he said. “I would call this an historic opportunity -- once-in-a-lifetime.”
Duncan, however, evaded two big questions. First, he wouldn’t talk about whether the school construction money is more crucial than some of the other education parts of the stimulus package—such as money for Title I or special education. I asked him which was more important, and another reporter followed up to ask him about funding priorities within the stimulus, especially given the need for compromise, and he declared that all of the education money is important (not exactly the rhetoric of compromise.)
Secondly, he was also asked (as part of a two-part question) what processes are in place to make sure the education money gets spent where it’s needed most. (That’s another big concern among many members of Congress.) He didn’t answer that question.
As a side note, the superintendent announced that Duncan had, indeed, chosen Arlington as the school district for his kids. Duncan said he and his wife would be moving into their new digs within the next two weeks.