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Modernizing America's Schools

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President Clinton's Radio Address To The Nation: Modernizing America's Schools (09/30/00)

Today, in his weekly radio address, President Clinton will announce a new U.S. Department of Education analysis demonstrating the pressing need to modernize schools in every state. He will call on Congress to pass his school modernization plan, which includes $25 billion in School Modernization Bonds and a $1.3 billion initiative for urgent school renovation. He will also call on Congress to invest in other education priorities, including smaller class sizes, more after-school learning opportunities, accountability for fixing failing schools, and ensuring a qualified teacher in every classroom.

PRESIDENT CLINTON WILL RELEASE A STATE-BY-STATE SNAPSHOT OF THE CONDITION OF SCHOOL FACILITIES. The new U.S. Department of Education analysis describes the condition of school facilities in every state, from Alabama (where 84 percent of schools need repairs) to Wyoming (where 82 percent need repairs). The paper provides the first state-by-state snapshot of school facility conditions, and state-run school construction programs, and describes how School Modernization Bonds would help. In every state and the District of Columbia, at least 60 percent of schools need repairs. Crumbling schools not only have a negative effect on student learning, but they can pose serious dangers to students' health and safety. For example, 87 percent of Dade County, Florida, schools failed fire safety code requirements due to electrical problems, missing or defective smoke and heat alarms, and nonfunctional fire extinguishers.

THE CLINTON-GORE PLAN TO MODERNIZE AMERICA'S SCHOOLS. All students deserve a safe, healthy, and modern place to learn. President Clinton will urge the congressional leadership to quit stalling and pass school construction legislation this year. Specifically, to help communities meet this national priority, he has proposed:

  • $25 BILLION IN SCHOOL MODERNIZATION BONDS. President Clinton has proposed $25 billion in school construction bonds that would be interest-free for school districts. The bonds would help build and modernize 6,000 schools nationwide. Districts could use these 15-year bonds to modernize existing schools as well as build new ones. Bond owners would receive federal tax credits rather than interest payments from school districts, allowing districts to borrow interest-free for school construction. A similar mechanism has been used successfully for Qualified Zone Academy Bonds (QZABs). In the U.S. House of Representatives, Reps. Charles Rangel and Nancy Johnson introduced bipartisan legislation based on the President's proposal with 229 sponsors. In the Senate, Sen. Charles Robb introduced a similar bill.
  • $1.3 BILLION FOR URGENT REPAIRS. President Clinton has also proposed a $1.3 billion initiative to make $6.7 billion in grants and interest-free loans for emergency repairs at 5,000 schools. Over five years, the initiative would help 25,000 schools repair roofs, heating and cooling systems, and electrical wiring. The assistance would be targeted to high-need districts. Within this $1.3 billion, the initiative would allocate $50 million for public schools with high concentrations of Native American students. Sen. Harkin and Rep. Clay have introduced urgent school repair legislation in Congress.
  • NATIVE AMERICAN SCHOOLS. President Clinton requested $300 million for the replacement and renovation of Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)-funded schools, of which up to $30 million may be used to ensure principal repayment on School Modernization Bonds. These schools have an $800 million backlog in health, safety, and other critical needs. He also proposed to allocate $400 million of the $25 billion in School Modernization bonds for these schools over two years. The Administration supports passage of legislation to make the bonding proposal a reality for Indian communities.

THE URGENT NATIONAL NEED FOR SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION. Communities across the country are struggling to address urgent safety and facility needs, rising student enrollments, and smaller class sizes.

  • An estimated $127 billion is needed to bring America's schools into good overall condition, according to the U.S. Department of Education. An estimated 3.5 million students attend schools that need extensive repair or replacement. (Condition of America's Public School Facilities: 1999, 2000)
  • Our schools need over $300 billion to meet the challenge of rising enrollments, installing a modern technology infrastructure, and making critical repairs, according to the National Education Association. (Modernizing Our Schools: What Will It Cost?, 2000)
  • The average public school was built 42 years ago. About one-third of public schools were built before 1970 and haven't been renovated since at least 1980. (National Center for Education Statistics, Condition of Education 2000, p. 63).
  • School conditions matter: A growing body of research links student achievement and behavior to physical building conditions and overcrowding. Good facilities are an important precondition for student learning, provided that other necessary conditions are also present.

CALLING ON CONGRESS TO INVEST IN AMERICA'S EDUCATION PRIORITIES. In February, the Clinton-Gore Administration sent Congress a balanced and fiscally responsible budget that makes investments in key education initiatives such as continuing our commitment to hire 100,000 quality teachers to reduce class sizes, ensuring a qualified teacher in every classroom, increasing accountability by turning around failing schools, expanding after-school opportunities, and preparing 1.3 million at-risk children for college through GEAR UP. As of today, the last day of the fiscal year, the Republican Congress has completed only two of 13 spending bills and is now rejecting America's priorities and loading spending bills with election-year, earmarked projects for special interests. Today, the President will renew his call on Congress to fully enact his education budget proposals by investing more in our schools and demanding more from them to ensure our children receive the high-quality education they deserve.

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