Education found itself at the center of a tug of war this month as part of a landmark economic stimulus initiative.
The original House version included $20 billion for school construction; education infrastructure was a casualty in the Senate version of the stimulus plan. Other education funding also suffered in the Senate version.
When the dust cleared in what turned out to be a whirlwind negotiation session to finalize a compromise stimulus package, school construction funding lost. However, as part of a fiscal stabilization fund included in the package, states can use some of the money for school renovations.
Even as many states and localities have passed bond issues to build much-needed new schools and repair and upgrade existing facilities, the potential funding for infrastructure will be an adrenaline shot to help address a massive backlog of need, create thousands of jobs, and transform outdated classrooms into effective learning environments.
President Obama and Democratic leaders in the House were determined to keep school construction part of the final economic stimulus package. If history tells us anything, it is that this will not be the last time school construction takes the national stage. Just last year, the House passed the 21st Century High-Performing Public School Facilities Act — providing $20 billion in funding for school construction over five years. The Senate, however, did not take action on the bill.
Over the past 15 or so years, similar funding initiatives have been proposed in Washington in an attempt to help repair America's deteriorating education infrastructure — only for the potential funding to be squelched because of ideological differences between the parties.
Agron is editor-in-chief for AS&U.