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Clinton-Gore Administration: Modernizing America's Schools

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National Economic Council


June 16, 2000

Today, President Clinton will visit the Abigail Adams School (P.S. 131) in Queens, New York, to highlight the urgent national need to improve our school facilities. The Abigail Adams School, an elementary school built in 1926, is over 150 percent of capacity. This classroom crunch means that the school's 862 students take music classes in the cafeteria, English as a second language and special education classes in the auditorium lobby, and science classes from teachers with carts, not classrooms. Its eight temporary classrooms—in three trailers and one modular extension—house 240 students. To help communities nationwide modernize their schools, President Clinton will call on Congress to pass his school construction proposals: $25 billion in School Modernization Bonds and $6.5 billion in Urgent School Renovation Loans and Grants.

KEY ELEMENTS OF THE PRESIDENT'S PLAN. All students need a safe, healthy, and modern place to learn. To meet this national priority, President Clinton proposed:

  • $25 BILLION IN SCHOOL MODERNIZATION BONDS. President Clinton proposed $25 billion in school construction bonds that would be interest-free for school districts and would help modernize 6,000 schools nationwide. In the U.S. House of Representatives, Reps. Charles Rangel and Nancy Johnson introduced bipartisan legislation based on the President's proposal with 185 co-sponsors. In the Senate, Sen. Charles Robb introduced a similar bill.

  • HOW SCHOOL MODERNIZATION BONDS WORK. Bondholders would receive federal tax credits rather than interest payments from school districts, allowing districts to borrow interest-free for school construction. A similar mechanism has been used successfully for Qualified Zone Academy Bonds (QZABs). The $25 billion would be allocated among states and school districts. Districts could use these 15-year bonds to modernize existing schools as well as build new ones. The President's proposal would cost $2.4 billion over five years. The bill's innovative financing mechanism is a cost-effective approach to leveraging local construction that avoids a new bureaucracy.

  • $6.5 BILLION IN LOANS AND GRANTS FOR URGENT REPAIRS. President Clinton also proposed a $1.3 billion initiative to make $6.5 billion in grants and interest-free loans for emergency repairs at 5,000 schools. The initiative would help school districts repair roofs, heating and cooling systems, and electrical wiring. The assistance would be targeted to high-need districts, with the smaller amount of grant aid available for school districts unable to finance capital expenditures. Sen. Harkin and Rep. Clay have introduced urgent school repair legislation. In addition, the budget passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee includes $1.3 billion for school construction as part of its education block grant; now, these funds need to be dedicated to construction and targeted to meet our schools' needs.

THERE IS AN URGENT NATIONAL NEED FOR SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION AND REPAIR. Communities across the country are struggling to address urgent safety and facility needs, rising student enrollments, and smaller class sizes.

  • An estimated $112 billion is needed to bring America's schools into good overall condition, according to General Accounting Office in 1995. One-third of American schools—teaching 14 million students—need extensive repair or building replacements. (School Facilities: The Condition of America's Schools, 1995)
  • Including the costs of rising enrollments and technology infrastructure, over $300 billion is needed, according to the National Education Association. (Modernizing Our Schools: What Will It Cost?, 2000)
  • The average public school was built 42 years ago. About one-third of public schools were built before 1970 and haven't been renovated since at least 1980. (National Center for Education Statistics, Condition of Education 2000, p. 63).
  • Public and elementary enrollment is expected to increase by another million students between 1999 and 2006, to a record 44.4 million elementary and secondary students. (Condition of Education 2000, p. 8)

CONGRESS' BUDGET PLAN IGNORES THE NEEDS OF AMERICAN SCHOOLS. In February, the Clinton-Gore Administration sent Congress a balanced and responsible budget that made investments in key education initiatives to raise standards, increase accountability, and invest in what works. This week, on June 14, the House of Representatives narrowly passed its budget on a partisan vote. This legislation is built on misguided priorities and insufficient resources.

  • The House rejected the President's $1.3 billion plan to help states and localities make emergency repairs to crumbling schools. It has also failed to act on his School Modernization Bonds proposal.
  • Meanwhile, the House has passed tax cuts that would drain more than $550 billion from the surplus. To pay for these tax cuts, the House budget would cut domestic priorities $29 billion below the President's level, an average cut of 9 percent.
  • The House bill also invests too little in other important education initiatives. It fails to strengthen accountability and turn around failing schools, reduce class size, provide funds for emergency repairs and renovating aging schools, sufficiently expand after-school opportunities, prepare more low-income students for college through GEAR UP, invest in improvements in teacher quality, and help bridge the digital divide.


A growing body of research has linked student achievement and behavior to the physical building conditions and overcrowding. Good facilities appear to be an important precondition for student learning, provided that other conditions are present that support a strong academic program in the school.

  • Studies of schools in the District of Columbia, rural and urban Virginia, and North Dakota found higher test scores in schools in better condition. Students in poor school buildings scored five to 11 percent lower on standardized tests. One study found that poorer achievement was associated with specific building features such as substandard science facilities, air conditioning, locker conditions, classroom furniture, more graffiti, and noisy external environments (See Edwards, 1992; Cash 1993; Hines 1996; and Earthman, 1996).
  • Heating and air conditioning systems, facilities like science laboratories and equipment, and color and interior painting appear to be very important to student achievement. Proper building maintenance is also related to better attitudes and fewer disciplinary problems (McGuffey, 1982).
  • Research also indicates that the quality of air inside public school facilities may significantly affect students' ability to concentrate. The evidence suggests that youth, especially those under ten years of age, are more vulnerable than adults to the types of contaminants (asbestos, radon, and formaldehyde) found in some school facilities (Andrews and Neuroth, 1988).
  • A Carnegie Foundation (1988) report on urban schools concluded, "the tacit message of the physical indignities in many urban schools is not lost on students. It bespeaks neglect, and students' conduct seems simply an extension of the physical environment that surrounds them." Poplin and Weeres (1992) reported that, based on an intensive study of teachers, administrators, and students in four schools, "the depressed physical environment of many schools. . . is believed to reflect society's lack of priority for these children and their education."
  • Where the problems with working conditions are serious enough to impinge on the work of teachers, they result in higher absenteeism, reduced levels of effort, lower effectiveness in the classroom, low morale, and reduced job satisfaction. Where working conditions are good, they result in enthusiasm, high morale, cooperation, and acceptance of responsibility (Corcoran et al., 1988).
  • A study of overcrowded schools in New York City found that students in such schools scored significantly lower on both mathematics and reading exams than did similar students in underutilized schools. In addition, when asked, students and teachers in overcrowded schools agreed that overcrowding negatively affected both classroom activities and instructional techniques (Rivera-Batiz and Marti, 1995).


Andrews, James B., and Richard Neuroth (October 1988). "Environmentally Related Health Hazards in the Schools." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association of School Business Officials International in Detroit, Michigan. ED 300929.

Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. An Imperiled Generation: Saving Urban Schools. Princeton, New Jersey: Author. ED 293940.

Cash, Carol (1993). A Study of the Relationship Between School Building Condition and Student Achievement and Behavior. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Blacksburg, VA: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Corcoran, Thomas B., Lisa J. Walker, and J. Lynne White (1988). Working in Urban Schools. Washington, DC: Institute for Educational Leadership.

Earthman, Glen (1996). "Review of Research on the Relationship Between School Buildings, Student Achievement, and Student Behavior." Draft position paper prepared for the Council of Educational Facility Planners, International. Scottsdale, AZ.

Edwards, Maureen M. (1992). Building Conditions, Parental Involvement and Student Achievement in the D.C. Public School System. Unpublished Master Degree Thesis, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. (ED 264 285).

Hines, Eric (1996). Building Condition and Student Achievement and Behavior. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Blacksburg, VA: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

McGuffey, Carroll (1982). "Facilities." In Herbert Walberg (ed.), Improving Educational Standards and Productivity. Berkeley: McCutchan Publishing Corporation.

Poplin, Mary, and Joseph Weeres (1992). Voices from the Inside: A Report on Schooling from Inside the Classroom. Part One: Naming the Problem. The Institute for Education in Transformation at the Claremont Graduate School.

Rivera-Batiz, Francisco L., and Lillian Marti (1995). A School System at Risk: A Study of the Consequences of Overcrowding in New York City Public Schools. New York: Institute for Urban and Minority Education, Teachers College, Columbia University.

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