Press Release

Letter to Congress Regarding H.R. 4094, "America’s Better Classroom Act"

June 10, 2000

The Honorable Trent Lott
Senate Majority Leader
United States Senate
487 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510


The Honorable Dennis Hastert
Speaker of the House
United.States House of Representatives
2263 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Senator Lott and Speaker Hastert:

We are writing to request your support for H.R 4094, "America’s Better Classroom Act," a bipartisan initiative to modernize and construct public schools. The dire need for school modernization is a critical national issue, which deserves the immediate attention of the 106th Congress.

In our role as mayors of some of the nation’s most populous cities, we see firsthand the need to construct and modernize our public school facilities. In our view, it is vital that we respond immediately as a nation to the problem of crowded and unsafe school facilities. It has taken several decades for this problem to reach its current critical state, but now it is a national issue with dire implications for our America’s future.

All across America, nearly 25,000 public schools – almost one-third of all public school buildings – are in a serious state of disrepair. This means that every day parents send over 15 millions school-age children to facilities that have substandard heating, ventilation, plumbing, and roofing systems. Unfortunately, demographic trends have far outrun our aging public school infrastructure. Record enrollments at public schools are now approaching 53.2 million children this year and are expected to climb further. Moreover, the average public school in America is 42 years old.

The General Accounting Office (GAO) estimates that over $112 billion is needed today to repair existing schools that are in poor condition. In order to accommodate rising enrollments in high-growth areas of the country, 2,400 new schools will need to be built by 2003. And this does not take into account the vast number of antiquated schools that are not connected to the Internet, the lifeline to our nation’s future prosperity. In short, making America’s public school infrastructure ready for the 21" century is a $200 billion problem. The magnitude of the problem means that local jurisdictions are ill equipped to handle it alone. Modernization and renovation of our nation’s public schools affects every community in every state. It is a non-partisan national issue that deserves immediate congressional action.

Representative Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) and Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY) have formed a partnership and introduced a bipartisan school modernization bill entitled the "America’s Better Classroom Act." This initiative would subsidize $24.8 billion in zero-interest school modernization bonds and would establish a federal partnership with states and local schools. Sixty percent of $22 billion of bonds would be allocated to states based on their school-age population. States would have total flexibility to allocate the bonds to school districts based on their needs. The remaining 40 percent would be directly allocated to the 125 school districts with the largest number of low-income children. The proposal also provides for $2.4 billion to expand the Qualified Zone Academy Bond (QZAB) Program.

The Johnson/Rangel bill emphasizes federal support rather than federal control over local school districts requesting assistance. The states and local school districts would make all decisions as to what schools to build or modernize. The federal role is limited to making the initial distribution of the bonds and to establish a tax credit in lieu of interest to bond purchasers. This is an excellent bipartisan approach which mayors of urban and rural communities support.

We are pleased with the growing momentum of bipartisan support for H.R. 4094, the "America’s Better Classroom Act." Representatives Johnson and Rangel have crafted a unique, bipartisan solution the 106th Congress can embrace. We urge you to support their efforts and pass this initiative during the remaining days of the 106th Congress.


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