The House has taken another stab at steering federal funds to school construction. The chamber on Sept. 17 approved a measure that would authorize more than $6.5 billion for public-school and community-college projects. The provision is part of a bill that would expand the federal college-loan program and curtail private lending in that sector. The focus now moves to the Senate, where the fate of the construction proposal is uncertain.
The measure would authorize $2.02 billion annually for fiscal 2010 and 2011 to modernize, renovate or repair K-12 public schools. Another $2.5 billion would be available for new construction or modernization of community colleges, starting in fiscal 2011.
Groups such as the American Institute of Architects support the bill and were encouraged to see the House pass it. But Andrew Goldberg, AIA’s senior director for federal relations, says the legislation could face a tough battle.
“The outlook for passage in the Senate is unclear,” Goldberg says. He notes that a Senate vote on the bill could come by the end of September and says, “That is where we have seen roadblocks on school construction for some time."
The House included $14 billion for school-construction funding in what eventually became the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. But the Senate zeroed out school-construction funds in the final bill.
The new, House-passed measure emphasizes green design and construction, a major initiative of the Obama administration. Half of the bill’s funds for K-12 school projects would be required to go for green projects in 2010, and 75% of the money would have to be used for such projects in 2011. Half of the funds for community colleges also would be required to go to green projects. The bill also would establish an advisory council on green, high-performing public-school facilities.
In addition, the House measure includes “Buy American” provisions, which call for exclusive use of U.S.-produced iron, steel and manufactured goods on projects it funds.
Brian Turmail, spokesman for the Associated General Contractors of America, says similar Buy American provisions in the stimulus package have delayed ARRA projects from moving forward. Turmail says, “We hope the Senate will demonstrate the wisdom needed to not tie up this [school] funding in bureaucratic problems associated with Buy American.”