Clinton seeks $5 billion for public school repairs GAO study says one-third in U.S. need major work

July 12, 1996|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Citing a recent federal study showing that one-third of the nation's 80,000 public schools are in serious disrepair, President Clinton proposed yesterday to spend $5 billion to help rebuild the nation's schools.

"This is a matter of real urgency," Clinton said. "Bringing our schools into the 21st century is a national challenge that demands a national commitment. We cannot expect our children and our teachers to build strong lives on a crumbling foundation."

But Congress would have to approve such a program, and Republicans immediately denounced Clinton's proposal. "It's another election-year gimmick," said Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

Under Clinton's plan, school districts could apply for federal subsidies to cut interest costs on new construction by up to 50 percent. The $5 billion is projected to spur $20 billion of school construction and renovation over four years, according to White House documents.

Clinton's school-repair plan is unlikely to become law before November's elections, White House aides conceded, but they defended it as precisely the kind of campaign-year proposal that distinguishes Clinton's approach from the Republicans'.

"I think it has to do with priorities, and I think a campaign is about priorities," said Laura D'Andrea Tyson, Clinton's national economic adviser.

"And I think that the president's commitment to education as a key priority that defines his administration" is evident in this initiative, she said.

A General Accounting Office study released June 14 concluded that many U.S. elementary and secondary schools are in poor physical shape. According to the GAO report:

About one-third of the schools -- serving some 14 million students -- need extensive repair or replacement of one or more buildings.

Sixty percent of schools report at least one major building feature, such as plumbing or roofs, in disrepair.

About $112 billion must be spent over the next three years to bring all public schools up to good physical condition.

Although crumbling schools were found in every region, "the largest proportion of such schools was in central cities -- they were schools serving 50 percent or more minority or 70 percent or more poor students," the study said.

Equally important, in the White House view, is that 46 percent of U.S. public schools have inadequate electrical wiring for computers and other modern communications technology, according to a 1995 GAO study.

Today the nation spends about $10 billion a year on school construction and repair -- or $40 billion over four years. Clinton's program aims to spur at least $10 billion in extra spending, to $50 billion over four years -- boosting school construction by 25 percent, according to White House documents.

Pub Date: 7/12/96

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