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$787 Billion Stimulus Bill Does Not Inlcude $16 Billion for School Construction

By Jeff Hudson - February 13, 2009

Having cleared the Senate on a 61-37 vote on Tuesday, the federal stimulus bill was sent to the President for his signature on Wednesday, as Congressional negotiators quickly reached a compromise agreement reconciling the House and Senate versions of the legislation.

The final deal – a $787 billion package overall – was something of a disappointment for educators. Despite intensive lobbying by local school districts and governors, the version of the bill sent to the President does not include the $16 billion in funding for K-12 school construction and modernization.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who had wanted the $16 billion in the final version, told the New York Times, “I’m not happy with it. . . They took a lot of stuff out of education.”

But the political reality was that the Democratic majority needed to make a deal.  The stimulus bill needed 60 votes to pass in the Senate.  And when the bill passed on Tuesday, it had the votes of 56 Democrats, two independents (Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Bernie Sanders of Vermont), and three Republicans from the Northeast – Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

Collins was quoted on Wednesday as saying that bringing the total for the stimulus package down to under $800 billion was “a fiscally responsible number.”  (The version of the bill passed earlier by the House came to nearly $900 billion.)

Several Republican opponents of the legislation continued to criticize the bill, with Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, saying “Americans are wondering how we’re going to pay for this.”

Details of the compromise legislation were still emerging on Thursday.  The San Francisco Chronicle reported that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was still trying to include some money for school modernization in the bill, in the form of $54 billion in state fiscal relief to prevent cuts in state aid to school districts – allowing governors to spend up to $10 billion for school repair (but not for new school construction).

The compromise version of the bill also reportedly includes $26 billion for school districts, to fund special education programs, and mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind legislation; also $2 billion to support Head Start programs.

Editor's Note: Jeff Hudson is the editor of EdBrief and an award-winning education reporter and writer in print, radio and television media.