by Dr. Terry Stoops
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
In this week’s CommenTerry, I provide an overview of the school construction provisions in President Barack Obama’s "American Jobs Act." Next week, I will discuss the sections of the proposal that address public education jobs.
Last week, President Obama unveiled the $450 billion American Jobs Act. (It was that speech before the awesome NFL regular season opener, New Orleans Saints vs. Green Bay Packers.) Obama’s plan included two public-school components. The first was a $30 billion proposal to fund approximately 280,000 public-school jobs. The second was a $25 billion request to renovate 35,000 public-school facilities.
Obama’s facilities plan focuses on the renovation of science labs and installing Internet access in classrooms. States and school districts would be prohibited from using the money for new construction, payment of routine maintenance costs, and modernization, renovation, or repair of stadiums or other facilities primarily used for athletics. North Carolina’s share would be around $675 million.
This request for school construction dollars will be a tough sell. As policy ubermensch Rick Hess pointed out, Obama could not persuade a heavily Democratic Congress to approve funding for school facilities in the 2009 stimulus legislation. It will be even more difficult now that Republicans control the House of Representatives.
In early 2009, President Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and a number of Democratic leaders sought to include an appropriation of $14 billion to $16 billion for public-school construction in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (known as the stimulus bill). For years, Congress set aside a few million dollars for school facilities bonds, known as Qualified Zone Academy Bonds (QZAB), as well as funds for the Community Facilities Loan and Grant Program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The stimulus bill would have turned a million-dollar hobby into a billion-dollar business.
During the stimulus debate, moderate legislators on both sides of the aisle worried that the federal government would create a dangerous precedent by funding school construction directly. They rightly feared that states would begin to rely on the federal government for funding a responsibility traditionally (and constitutionally) left to state and local governments. Besides, some legislators are actually worried about that pesky federal debt.
In an effort to attract support for the bill from cautious legislators, Congressional leaders abandoned the school construction line item at the last minute. The final version of the stimulus bill gave states and school districts the option to use part of the $53 billion "State Fiscal Stabilization Fund" portion of the stimulus bill for school repair, renovation, and modernization projects. It also allowed state and local governments to issue up to $22 billion in bonds for school capital needs.
By September 2009, only Arkansas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia used their stimulus allotments to make school capital improvements. Over the last two years, however, a number of school districts in North Carolina and elsewhere have obtained low-interest bonds, interest-free bonds, or direct appropriations from their state’s stimulus funding. As of July 2011, 62 of 115 school districts in North Carolina received a portion of $553 million in stimulus funds available for interest-free qualified school construction bonds.
Despite the widespread use of stimulus funds for school facilities improvements, lawmakers remain uneasy about the prospect of a federally funded school facilities program. This is a good thing. School construction and renovation decisions are best left to local communities, not bureaucrats in Washington, DC.
Like much of the Fantasy Football community, I benched Carolina’s Steve Smith this week. His 178-yard, two-touchdown performance earned fantasy owners an astonishing 29 points. Darn.
Facts and Stats
Education proposals in President Barack Obama’s American Jobs Act:
I would like to invite all readers to submit announcements, as well as their personal insights, anecdotes, concerns, and observations about the state of education in North Carolina. I will publish selected submissions in future editions of the newsletter. Anonymity will be honored. For additional information or to send a submission, email Terry at [email protected].
Education Acronym of the Week
AIFA — American Infrastructure Financing Authority
Quote of the Week
When I heard the makeup of the President’s double-secret, anxiously awaited plan to create millions of jobs and make America happy again, I unaccountably found myself flashing on the scene in "Knocked Up" where Seth Rogen meets Katherine Heigl. The overmatched Rogen is on the dance floor, shimmying and pumping his arm in his "rolling the dice" move. Watching the sorry spectacle, one friend notes, "Dude, I think he’s doing the dice thing too much." The other thinks for a moment and nods, then notes, "That’s really all he’s got."
— Rick Hess, "That’s Really All He’s Got," Rick Hess Straight Up, Education Week blog, September 9, 2011.
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