Monday, May 05, 2008

School Construction Bill Moves Forward

The House Committee on Education and Labor held a mark-up last week of H.R. 3021, the 21st Century High-Performing Public Schools Facilities Act. The bill would allocate $6.4 billion annually via a variation of the Title I formula to all states. Each school district would be guaranteed at least $5,000. One goal of the program is to promote "green schools," with 90 percent of funding reserved for "green projects" by 2013.

Discussion during the mark-up was dominated by two topics: the requirement that Davis-Bacon wage protections be applied to all grants and concern that funding for school construction would be the "account that ate Washington," given the tremendous need for renovations and new construction across the nation. An amendment from Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) would have required Congress to fully fund Title I of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) before any monies could be appropriated for HR 3021. The amendment was rejected on a mostly partisan vote.

As noted by Ranking Member Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), who was critical of chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) for bypassing the subcommittee structure and moving straight to a committee mark-up, the bill will likely move "like lightning" to the House floor. Funding for school construction has been a talking point for negotiations on a second economic stimulus package in both the House and Senate.

The fate of the bill on the House floor is unknown, but given Miller's support from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), if this is his priority, it will most likely find a spot on the calendar. Once the bill reaches the Senate, the conversation will get much more complicated, and quick consideration is far less likely. Regardless, movement of the bill through the House Committee got praise from education groups who have long supported the effort.

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