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Clinton says GOP plan would prevent much-needed school construction

September 6, 1999
Web posted at: 4:20 p.m. EDT (2020 GMT)

NORFOLK, Virginia (CNN) -- Beginning a week of public appearances to outline to his opposition to a Republican tax cut plan, President Bill Clinton on Monday called on Congress to assure federal funding for new school construction.

"What we are here about -- the education of our children and the modernization of our schools -- has broad and deep support," Clinton said in a speech at a Norfolk elementary school. But he claimed a $792 billion GOP tax cut plan would make that impossible by drying up needed funds.

Clinton
President Clinton spoke Monday in Norfolk, Virginia.  

The speech was the first of a series the president will make this week, concentrating on issues important to the administration. It came as Clinton and congressional Republicans prepare for the final few weeks of the congressional calendar -- a time that might set the agenda for many of the issues of the 2000 election year.

Clinton consistently has said the Republican-backed tax plan, passed shortly before the August recess, will make it impossible to pay for school improvements. He also brushed aside Republican claims that school renovations were best left up to local districts.

"Normally that might be true but just like World War II, these are not normal times," he said. The "baby boom" period after World War II stretched many school buildings beyond their designed capacities; now, the children of those baby boomers are causing the same problem in many districts.

Many of the districts -- including Norfolk -- have responded by erecting thousands of temporary classroom trailers, which critics say provide a much poorer atmosphere for learning than traditional classrooms.

Clinton made the speech at Coleman Place Elementary School, constructed in 1924. The school uses temporary trailers for some classrooms and has problems with its electrical system and decaying window frames.

About a third of American public schools, or 25,000 buildings, need extensive repair or replacement, according to the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress. The GAO also calculated that $112 billion is needed just to repair existing schools.

This fall, Congress considers a 34-year old law that governs the bulk of federal education spending. The White House is expecting a fight over Clinton's bond proposal for school modernization, which would provide $24.8 billion in tax credit bonds over two years. The Clinton Administration claims that amount would make it cheaper for local school districts to modernize up to 6,000 schools.

"You can say this is a Norfolk problem, but (Virginia Sen.) Chuck Robb told me there are 3,000 trailers in Virginia alone. This is a national problem," Clinton said. "I have seen this everywhere, and if we can meet this big, long-term challenge to America, don't we have the obligation to do it?"

The president said Republicans have "passed a tax cut that's too big to do this," and that the GOP would have to raid Social Security surpluses or make cuts in other areas to fund school construction.

"That's why they haven't sent me an education bill. I guess if I had that choice, I wouldn't want to send it to the president, either," the president said.

"Let's deal with our responsibilities to our children and our future first. I have put forward a plan that does that," Clinton said. "I ask you to leave here on this Labor Day committed to fix all the buildings."


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Monday, September 6, 1999






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