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By Paul Bradley  /  
2009 February 10 - 12:00 am

New Education Secretary Signals Fight for Education Money

New U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has signaled that the Obama administration intends to fight for money to modernize and renovate college buildings — money that was included in the economic stimulus bill approved by the House but eliminated by the Senate.

Speaking at the annual convention of the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C., Duncan said that colleges desperately need money to finance shovel-ready projects that been dormant for years because of lack of financing.

“Astonishingly, the Senate proposal has dropped money for school modernization that had been approved by the House,” Duncan said. “It makes no sense, especially since it would create new jobs quickly.”

The House version of the economic stimulus bill provided a $6 billion “higher education facilities modernization fund.” It would be divided among states, based on enrollment, to finance renovations of campus buildings.

But the Senate version of the bill eliminates the fund altogether, dashing the hopes of college officials who had been looking forward to a construction windfall.

The Senate version would also provide significantly less money to states that have been counting on the stimulus package to help fill education budget shortfalls. The House version would create a $39 billion stabilization fund to be distributed to states to keep their education budgets at 2008 levels. The Senate version would shrink the fund to $26.7 billion.

The differences will have to be reconciled by a House-Senate conference committee, and Obama administration officials have been hinting that the president is not happy with the Senate cuts.

Making the rounds of the Sunday morning talk shows, Lawrence Summers, Obama’s top economic advisor, said, “There are crucial areas, support for higher education, that are things in the House bill that are very, very important to the president.”

Duncan underscored the point during his 15-minute talk to education leaders in Washington. Citing a forthcoming University of Washington report, Duncan said states are planning to cut $80 billion in education funding over the next two years, putting the jobs of as many as 600,000 teachers and professors at risk.

“Without that state money, hundreds of thousands of teachers and professors will be collecting unemployment instead of teaching our children,” he said.

“During the conference process, we need to push for every dollar we can get, because universities and community colleges desperately need that money to avert cuts,” he said.

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