WASHINGTON — House Democrats prevailed in a heated, partisan showdown Wednesday over a proposal by Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Ky., to use federal funds to build environmentally friendly schools. The measure, which passed 250-164, would authorize $6.4 billion in fiscal 2009 to build environmentally friendly public schools through grants to schools across the country. It also allocates $500 million over five years to help reconstruct and renovate public schools damaged by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The bill requires school districts to publicly report the educational, energy and environmental benefits of their building projects and report the percentage of funds used for projects at low-income and rural schools.
Republican opponents of Chandler's proposal say the financially stretched U.S. Department of Education would be hard-pressed to allocate additional money to a task that traditionally has been the responsibility of local districts and states. The Bush administration is also concerned that the requirement of paying prevailing wages on construction will inflate the costs of school modernization and repair projects.
President Bush has threatened to veto the measure. "The federal role should not be expanded to fund school modernization and repair projects at thousands of school districts across the nation. That responsibility rests with state and local governments, and should remain there," the White House Office of Management and Budget said in a statement.
On the House floor, Chandler defended the measure. "This bill is a home run. It is an investment in our children, our environment, our economy and our future as a nation," Chandler said on the House floor Wednesday. "It will give much-needed money to our struggling schools, while at the same time helping the environment and creating jobs for Americans that cannot be shipped overseas.
"We are spending hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq; surely we can invest less than $7 billion in the future of our children, and the future of our country."