Obama: Invest Private Capital in School Upgrades

Managing Editor

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama called for the creation of a program designed to attract private capital to school modernization, upgrades he said should be part of a broader series of physical improvements to make local communities more attractive to employers.

Obama’s speech Tuesday night placed a heavy emphasis on improving U.S. infrastructure, including roads and bridges, which he described as being in disrepair, as well as improving rail, Internet, and other services. Revamping school buildings fit into that broad theme.
He called for a “Fix-it-First” program that he said would focus on the most urgent repairs, but he did not want the government covering all of those costs.

“To make sure taxpayers don’t shoulder the whole burden, I’m also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most,” Obama said, efforts that would include “modern ports to move our goods, modern pipelines to withstand a storm, modern schools worthy of our children.”

The White House told Education Week that for the time being it did not have additional details on the how the private-capital program would work. In a blueprint describing the president’s plans in greater depth, the White House said the Fix it First proposal calls for $50 billion in “frontloaded infrastructure investment,” the majority of which would flow toward the most urgent needs. He said the Partnership to Rebuild America would be aimed at “increasing private sector investment that will create jobs upgrading critical business infrastructure.”

Obama has emphasized the need for improving schools infrastructure and technology throughout his presidency, arguing, particularly when the nation was immersed in the recent recession, and then later climbing out of it, that those efforts would create jobs and more effective learning environments.

He put forward similar arguments Tuesday night.

(See my colleague Alyson Klein’s full recap of the State of the Union on Politics K-12.)

“Ask any CEO where they’d rather locate and hire,” Obama said, “a country with deteriorating roads and bridges—or one with high-speed rail and Internet, high-tech schools, self-healing power grids.”

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