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Congress Not Giving Up on Facilities

By Alyson Klein — May 04, 2009 1 min read

So if you were following the behind-the-scenes drama of the creation of the stimulus bill, you may remember that a specially dedicated fund just for school facilities, a huge priority for President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress, was stripped out at the last minute to gain the support of some moderate lawmakers.

Apparently, those folks were worried about creating a brand-new government program when the feds have trouble funding the ones that already exist (special education and Title I).

In the end, the stimulus included some tax incentives for school construction, and it permitted districts to use a portion of their state stabilization for school facilities. But some school districts weren’t very happy with the compromise.

Proponents of more funding for school facilities, including some powerful Democrats such as Rep. George Miller of California, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, and Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, who heads up the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees education spending, argued that the program would have been a win-win-win (spur the economy, create “greener” schools that will save money over the long haul, and bolster student achievement).

Now it looks like those folks haven’t given up on the idea of more resources for school facilities. On Wednesday, the House Education and Labor Committee is going to consider a bill that would authorize over $6 billion for modernization, renovation, and repair projects. A similar bill passed the House last year. Read more about it here.

The bill will most likely pass both the committee and the full House of Representatives, in which Democrats hold a majority.

The big question is what will happen in the Senate, where it’s much trickier to push through legislation. That chamber didn’t even bother to take up the House-passed bill in the last Congress.

Now, will Democratic leaders, with the White House and a bolstered majority, have the clout to get a school modernization program enacted into law? It remains to be seen, but if there’s pushback, it’s just as likely to come from conservative and moderate Democrats in the Senate as Republicans.

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