Despite a White House veto threat, the House has approved a bill that would authorize $6.4 billion for upgrades to public-school buildings around the country plus $500 million for school repairs in the hurricane-battered Gulf Coast. The vote on June 4 was 250-164, a margin that falls short of the two-thirds needed to override a presidential veto.
Besides the veto threat, there are other hurdles for the legislation. There is no companion bill yet in the Senate and even if the measure is enacted the authorized funds still would require annual appropriations.
The federal government historically has provided little construction funding for public schools. Most of the aid to build and renovate school facilities has come from local school districts or state governments.
For fiscal year 2009, the House bill would authorize $6.4 billion for the Dept. of Education to parcel out among states and school districts that now receive federal Title I aid. That assistance goes to schools with high numbers or high percentages of poor children. The legislation also would authorize $500 million over five years for Gulf Coast schools damaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
In addition, the measure also asks school districts to use the funds for improvements aimed at meeting current standards for green buildings.
The bill directs that Davis-Bacon Act prevailing-wage requirements would apply to work funded by the grants.
The bill's supporters include the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Dept. and several education groups, such as the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and American Association of School Administrators.
But the White House Office of Management and Budget on June 3 issued a statement objecting to the bill and threatening a presidential veto. OMB said the measure "would create an inappropriate and costly new federal role in modernizing and renovating public schools."
OMB also called the bill "poorly designed," contending it "would spread funds by formula, often in very small amounts, to all school districts receiving Title I funds." OMB said the Bush administration is "concerned" about the Davis-Bacon provision, which it says "will only inflate the costs of such school modernization and repair projects."