Caucus, White House Open Education Improvement Effort
WASHINGTON — Congressional Black Caucus leaders and President Clinton joined forces this month on a new package of K-12 education improvements they say will help provide a pipeline for future achievement.
The proposal includes funds to turn around low-performing schools and to pay for new school facilities that can accommodate the Internet and replace decaying buildings.
“Students can’t aim high in schools that perform low,” says Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., a Black lawmaker who is the senior Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee.
Part of Rangel’s solution is a series of new tax-credit bonds to support school construction and improvement. His plan would provide $24 billion in special tax credit bonds for projects during the next two years.
Too many young people, Rangel says, attend “schools where facilities are crumbling, classrooms are overcrowded, students are without computers and Internet access and many teachers are uncertified and underqualified.”
All that Republican leaders are offering is school vouchers, which would undermine public education, he adds.
Supplementing Rangel’s plan is a bill from Rep. William Clay, D-Mo., which would provide $1.3 billion in direct spending to improve needy schools. The funds would be spent on leaky roofs, emergency plumbing, asbestos removal and other projects within decaying buildings.
Rising enrollment is another pressure on schools, Clay said in introducing his part of the package as the Public School Repair and Renovation Act. The nation needs about 2,400 more schools to meet rising enrollments and to relieve overcrowding, says Clay, senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee. His proposal would reserve at least 10 percent of the funds for the poorest school districts.
As for educational improvements, one element of the package is $250 million to turn around or shut down failing public schools. A school would qualify as failing, or low-performing, if it fails to make progress toward state education goals for two consecutive years.
President Clinton cited this initiative in a recent radio address, noting that under his plan, schools could use the funds to develop and implement improvement plans, provide professional development activities for teachers, improve parent involvement and strengthen the curriculum. States already received $134 million this fiscal year for such improvement efforts.
The White House and Black Caucus members are hoping to insert the provisions into fiscal 2001 budget bills, as well as into any tax package the House of Representatives may tackle this year. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
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