This weekend, President-elect Barack Obama outlined his plan to build "21st century" schools and expand broadband access. He argues that improving school infrastructure is a win-win that can help strengthen the economy by creating jobs, while bolstering student learning and helping the U.S. stay economically competitive over the long haul.
Obama didn't offer any dollar amounts or substantive details about how the plan would be structured. But Rep. George Miller, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, may have laid some of the groundwork with a "green schools" bill he championed earlier this year. That legislation passed the House, but wasn't taken up in the Senate.
Congress is aiming to put together a stimulus package for Obama to sign shortly after he takes office next month. The President-elect's high profile support for school facilities means they're likely to be included in the measure. In addition to improving student learning and helping to create jobs, proponents of the plan will probably contend that making schools "greener" can help districts save money on energy costs down the road.
But look for possible opponents of the plan perhaps including many conservative Republicans to argue that the federal government already has many commitments to schools that are going underfunded, including money for disadvantaged kids and for students in special education.
And they may argue that the government and school districts could get more bag for their buck from the construction projects if they suspend Davis-Bacon, a federal labor law that specifies how much workers on federally-funded projects get paid. My guess is those arguments won't get much traction in a Democratic Congress.
Here's an excerpt from Obama's speech. You can read the rest at the transition team's Web site.
My economic recovery plan will launch the most sweeping effort to modernize and upgrade school buildings that this country has ever seen. We will repair broken schools, make them energy-efficient, and put new computers in our classrooms. Because to help our children compete in a 21st century economy, we need to send them to 21st century schools.
As we renew our schools and highways, we’ll also renew our information superhighway. It is unacceptable that the United States ranks 15th in the world in broadband adoption. Here, in the country that invented the internet, every child should have the chance to get online, and they’ll get that chance when I’m President – because that’s how we’ll strengthen America’s competitiveness in the world.