Shovel-ready school repairs and EduJobs

As part of his jobs bill, President Obama proposes to spend $25 billion to modernize 35,000 schools and $30 billion to hire teachers. All children will attend “great schools,” the president promised in his speech to Congress.

Children learn more in up-to-date schools, argues Answer Sheet’s Valerie Strauss.

All other things being equal, it’s good to have science labs, air conditioning and a roof that doesn’t leak. But there are plenty of shiny, new, wired-up-the-wazoo schools where kids don’t learn, because facilities are way less important than a strong principal who maintains order, a team of competent, collaborating teachers, a coherent curriculum and committed parents.

Economic Policy Institute’s Ross Eisenbrey thinks school districts could hire construction workers immediately to fix up old schools.

Using existing school aid formulas, Congress could allocate money to the 100 biggest school districts and the state education agencies to put people to work within a matter of weeks. Before winter hits, old, thermally inefficient windows could be replaced, insulation could be added to roofs, old boilers could be swapped out, and tens of thousands of construction workers could be back on the job. By next summer, hundreds of thousands of workers could be employed making improvements to facilities in every school district.

We know that “shovel-ready” projects weren’t ready to hire. Schools may have deferred maintenance wish lists, but it takes time for districts to apply for funding, for the feds to decide who gets funding and then for schools to prioritize projects, seek bids from contractors (who will have to pay workers the inflated Davis-Bacon rate), decide on the winning bids and get the work done.

It’s no comfort that Obama’s model is Georgia Work$, which subsidizes temporary jobs for the long-term unemployed. Georgia Work$ doesn’t work, Eisenbrey writes. Only 12 people signed up for the faltering program in August, adds Reuters.

The plan to rehire or hire teachers is a golden oldie.

Another dose of federal funding will let districts put off dealing with the overspending of the bubble years, writes Rick Hess.

I could repeat what I wrote last year about “Edujobs,” explaining how it undercuts supes, school boards, and unions leaders who are trying to rationalize outlays and benefits. I could repeat some of the concerns I raised when ARRA was being debated in spring 2009. I could explain how this is merely another push to kick the can down the road on hard but important choices, meaning schools and districts will just delay the day of reckoning, while locking in another year of problematic benefit obligations. I could point out that it means treating schools as a jobs bank rather than organizations that stand to benefit from streamlining (hard for me to think of anything less likely to breed professional respect for teachers than treating schools as a make-work jobs program).

In Stimulus I, districts used EduJobs money to protect fringe benefits and administrative staff while laying off teachers in the arts and other non-core subjects, writes Chris Tessone on Flypaper, citing a Center on Education Policy survey. “Funds for school modernization are nice,” he adds, but not likely to have much impact.

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  1. tim-10-ber says:

    Seems to me the money would be better spent training teachers, beefing up ed training programs, hiring new but highly effective teachers…

  2. One thing that bugs me with this is that Obama’s program will penalize districts with responsible leadership — districts like mine, for example.

    At a time when most Texas districts laid off teachers and freezing salaries, my district was able to avoid layoffs and even give us a 1% pay raise (yeah, that is a nominal increase, but our district is the only one in our metropolitan area to give a pay raise) due to a school board and superintendent who saw the lean years coming and set cash aside in a healthy reserve fund. We aren’t in a wealthy area of town, and our students are mostly minority and low-income, but I’m sure that the good decisions of our district’s leaders will mean that we get denied assistance, while the mostly white upper-middle class districts which spent like drunken sailors over the last decade will get an infusion of federal funds. After all, the argument will go, our students and our taxpayers don’t need the help — so in the ed profligacy will be its own reward.

  3. Kansas City spent TWO BILLION in extra money on schools. Two billion. They still couldn’t run a decent district. This whole program is gonna be money wasted. Didn’t Lincoln learn with a dirty shovel and a stick or something like that? I heard some silly story along those lines as a kid.

    Ok, seriously, this “new and nice is better” might be true for high school science, but nobody needs fancy stuff when they’re little. Just look at some of these homeschoolers spending three bucks each year and graduating from college at the age of 12.

    Yeah, I’m exaggerating just a liiiittle for effect, but you know what I mean. WHY can’t they do this the cheap way, like in the good old days? Just start CALLING it a “great school” for absolutely free. A thousand points of light. Blue ribbon this and star winner that. Be creative!

  4. Rhymes with Right,

    That’s a revolting possibility. I’ve seen similar worries about the infrastructure bank idea–that it will reward the grasshoppers and punish the ants.