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Lawmaker Eyes School Construction to Spur Economy

Rumors are swirling that President Barack Obama might use his jobs speech tomorrow to make a pitch for more money to prevent teacher layoffs—or repair the nation's schools

A school construction push might have a tailor-made funding vehicle in a bill to be introduced sometime soon by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who is the top Democrat on the House appropriations panel that oversees K-12 spending.

No word in this summary on just how much money would be available for school facilities overall. (Maybe, if Obama really is going to propose school construction money, DeLauro is waiting for the White House to put a number on it.) But the dollars would be distributed via the Title I formula, which aims to direct funds to high-poverty schools.

The measure would also keep in place the federal prevailing-wage rules known as Davis-Bacon. That's sure to be a sore point for GOP lawmakers (most of whom would probably not knock themselves out trying to support this bill anyway).

No matter what the vehicle, school construction funding is sure to be tough sell in a divided Congress. The architects of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka the stimulus) sought to include a school facilities grant program in the legislation, back in 2009, when both houses of Congress were in Democratic hands and Obama was extremely popular.

But the funds were stripped out to get support from moderate Democrats and Republicans, even though school construction advocates argued the funding was a win-win-win (create jobs, improve classroom environments, save money on energy bills, the works). Opponents counter that providing money for school construction simply isn't a federal responsibility; they say the feds still haven't come up with their share of special education funding and should focus on what they've already promised to do before taking on more spending.

In 2009, that meant lawmakers who voted for a bill that included some $100 billion for education still couldn't support federal money for school facilities. That goes to show how controversial this issue can be.

UPDATE (6 p.m.): I just spoke with Kim Anderson at the NEA about Obama's speech tomorrow, and it sounds like the union—which has been in touch with the president—expects to be pleased with what it hears.

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