Crumbling Schools, Crunching Numbers

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: President Clinton's new campaign dollop is a four-year, $5 billion construction program designed to fix crumbling schools nationwide. "Because it's about schools and kids, and it's an election year, proposing this now is very attractive for Clinton," says TIME White House correspondent Eric Pooley. "Everything Clinton's doing this year is designed to make him look good." The program, which will help school districts pay for repair costs and new construction, apparently is Clinton's response to a General Accounting Office report released two weeks ago that documented serious decay in the many of the nation's 80,000 public schools. Another GAO report has estimated that repairing and upgrading schools would cost $11 billion. Clinton plans to pay for his $5 billion program with funds from the federal government's auctions of communications licenses, which have generated about $20 billion. But the Republican-led Congress is unlikely to welcome another federally-funded education program: at the height of last year's budget-balancing deals, Congress eliminated $100 million in grants that had been approved in 1994 for school repair. Says Pooley: "It would seem a long shot for the Republicans to embrace this one. But Clinton has been interested in infrastructure programs since he first proposed one for schools and roads in 1993." That idea died on Capitol Hill, and with no evidence so far of a better legislative strategy, a repeat performance seems to be in store. -- Jenifer Mattos