For years, many liberals have claimed that the problem in American public education is that No Child Left Behind has been “under-funded.” Of course, federal spending on K-12 education programs is on pace to grow by 36 percent during the Bush presidency. But hey, who cares about actual budget numbers when it comes to scoring points with soccer moms in the political race to “fix” our public schools?
Tomorrow, Congressional Democrats plan to teach parents and taxpayers a lesson about the Left’s real priorities for public education. The House of Representatives will consider H.R. 3021, the “21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act,” a new $6 billion federal school construction program—a big-government handout to environmental groups and labor unions.
The legislation would create a new federal grant program to provide states and local education agencies with federal tax dollars to construct and modernize public school facilities. Among the reasons for supporting the legislation offered by the Democrats’ House Education and Labor Committee are to “create jobs in the construction industry” and “create schools that are more energy efficient and reliant on renewable resources of energy” thereby reducing “emissions that contribute to global warming.”
Under the plan, the federal government would provide grants to states and local school districts for modernizing and constructing new schools. Federal dollars would be required to be used on school buildings that meet environmental-standards established by the U.S. Green Building Council. The legislation also creates specific guidelines for how dollars can be used (outlining a laundry list of allowable, such as fixing a school’s plumbing or adding air condition). States would receive funding to establish a database to track schools’ carbon footprints and energy efficiency.
Of course, environmental groups aren’t the only special interests rewarded by the package. Labor unions win too. The legislation also includes the Davis-Bacon prevailing wage regulations, requiring projects funded by the program to pay workers equal or more than similar projects in the locality. The likely effect: driving up the cost of government projects.
This legislation is a good lesson for parents and taxpayers about the dangers of looking to Washington to fix problems in public education. Building new schools and modernizing existing ones is a priority for many states and localities. But this federal program will impose new regulations on how states and localities proceed. Moreover, it will give the federal government a new responsibility moving forward, leading to more bureaucracy, spending, and government waste.
If the real objective was to improve education, Congress would transfer power in education back to the state and local level. That way, states and localities could decide how best to use funds to improve schools, such as by driving more resources into the classroom or by improving facilities. Of course, HB 3021 teaches us what Congress’s real objective is—leaving no liberal interest group behind.