Slashing $20B from school modernization is not a compromise
My favorite person to follow on Twitter is Senator Claire McCaskill (http://twitter.com/clairecmc). It has been fun watching her twitter away as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (H.R. 1) rolled its was through the Senate. In order to add three opposing senators to the bill, Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, and Arlen Specter, over $100B was slashed, 20% of which was earmarked for schools. In @clairecmc tweet this morning she mentioned that 'things look good on compromise'. If you are a child (or teacher) working out of a poorly built trailer that is known to increase your risk of cancer by three times - you might not agree.
The House of Representatives passed a version of the bill which includes $14 billion for K-12 school modernization and $6 billion for modernization of higher-education facilities. While the American Federation of Teachers estimates school infrastructure need at more than $254B nationally, $20B is huge step. Yesterday the Senate slashed both sections and have deemed $0 as an appropriate amount to provide the nations' children with safer, healthy and more sustainable learning environments. Of course the side benefit would have been the creation of thousands of jobs for design and construction professionals, many of whom were suffering long before those bonuses were handed out to the financial executives.
So the Senate is feeling happy and they have saved themselves around 2.5% of the stimulus package by enacting this 'cost-saving' measure. Should we just let children learn in overcrowded buildings and trailers with leaky roofs, faulty electrical systems, outdated technology and unsafe chemicals? Perhaps we can come back to this next year when statistics show an elevated number of children dropping out of school and decreased standards of learning. I don't think anyone thinks is a good idea - even a tweeting Senator. So I am proposing two plans and urge to support at least one of them.
Plan One: Show them the future
Sometimes you need to visualize the future in order for someone to invest in it. For the past eighteen months my organization, Architecture for Humanity, has been researching the need for improved school infrastructure on a global level. This was borne out of our experience rebuilding work on the Gulf Coast and seeing the state of educational facilities that were impacted by Hurricane Katrina (sometimes it was hard to tell whether a school had been physically impacted given its general state of disrepair). Very soon we uncovered the need to respond to this global issue through local solutions.
At the 2009 World Economic Forum last week we launched the Open Architecture Challenge: CLASSROOM, an international initiative to bring students, teachers and design professionals together to design the classroom of their future - not have it dictated by government officials or administrators. Supported by a coalition of the willing (18 organizations and growing) this challenge allows those who actually know what makes a classroom work to design it. Waiting in the wings are a series of building partners that will implement a number of solutions. The winning design team will be awarded $5K and selected school $50K after jurying takes place in early July.
Most important of all every single design will be held under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike license allowing other communities in need to benefit from a portfolio of solutions. Perhaps when the United States government refocuses its attention on education it can adapt, remix and distribute some of these solutions.
If you are tired of all the bickering join us to design the future of classrooms and let's lead those in the bowels of the Capitol into the 21st Century.
Plan Two: Greed to Need Tax
This plan is a little more out there, but can be done with one pen stroke. I'm sure you are all aware of the recent hub-bub over the $18B bonuses handed out to financial executives for their stunning performance in 2008. Well given that many of them will have to file on April 15th (and they haven't squirreled it away offshore) let's create a 'Greed to Need' tax.
This month the President could enact a special one off tax (let's say 95%) on all of the out of control bonuses however there is one loophole. If the executive donates at least 75% of their bonus to a US based charitable organization or into a national school upgrading fund then they can keep the rest. Now we've re-invested somewhere between $10-12B in communities that have been truly affected by the financial crisis - without offending a single sitting Senator.