The school facilities bill that the House Education and Labor Committee approved just a few weeks ago came up for a vote today in the U.S. House of Representatives.
As you might expect, it was approved 275 to 155, pretty much on a party-line vote. As you also might expect, the pro-and-con arguments haven’t changed much over time.
During the House debate, Republicans worried that Congress is committing itself to yet another education program when it can’t seem to fully fund special education and Title I grants to districts, no matter which party is in charge. And, they wondered whether the feds should be financing school facilities at all, especially given the federal prevailing wage law, which they say is too costly.
Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, summed up his side’s arguments nicely in a statement today.
The federal government has always maintained a limited role in education, focusing on key academic priorities such as closing achievement gaps between disadvantaged students and their peers and ensuring services for children with disabilities. The construction and renovation of schools are among the most fundamental rights and responsibilities belonging to states and local communities. Federalizing this role is a stunning Washington power grab; something that has become all too familiar in recent months.
And here’s Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the committee’s chairman:
All students and teachers deserve safe and healthy learning environments, but too often, their schools are literally falling apart. This legislation is a victory for students, workers, and our planet. It will help improve educational opportunities and boost student achievement, it will help transition us toward a green economy by making our classrooms more environmentally friendly, and it will get Americans back to work by creating good-paying, clean-energy jobs.
As we’ve mentioned, that debate isn’t as big a deal in the House of Representatives, where Democrats have a majority. (In the House, the majority pretty much runs the show). That’s why the House was able to pass a version of the stimulus package that included $14 billion for school facilities, while the full Senate rejected a similar program.
And the House approved a similar bill last year that never made it to prime time, because the Senate didn’t take it up.
Over on the Senate side, it takes 60 votes to get anything through, and some conservative Democrats are skeptical about a federal school facilities program.
That probably won’t stop senators from trying. It’s possible that Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, the chairman of the subcommittee that funds education and a school facilities fan, could try to get a program into this year’s appropriations bill, for example.
But the real test for this bill is in the Senate, not the House.