WASHINGTON (AP) — The Education Department could use federal dollars to build schools for districts that suffer traumatic events such as those in Newtown, Conn., under an agreement the Senate education panel approved Wednesday.
Senators rewriting the No Child Left Behind education law agreed to expand the Education Department’s authority to help schools face shootings, suicide or other disruptive events. The Education Department does not currently pay for school construction projects and the proposed changes could expand Washington’s role in special circumstances.
“Like we help schools that are felled by natural disasters … we should help schools that are felled by mass assassinations,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.
Adam Lanza, 20, killed his mother at their Newtown home before going to Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he killed 26 people. Twenty of the victims were children.
Newtown schools have already received $1.3 million in federal aid to offset costs the district incurred after the December 2012 shooting as well as provide counseling and training for school officials.
Students have been moved to a remodeled school renamed Sandy Hook Elementary School in the neighboring town of Monroe. Officials in Newtown plan to build a new elementary school and Murphy proposed having Washington pick up some of the tab.
“This is a small town. They do not have the resources available to rebuild the school,” Murphy said.
Republicans on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee opposed the proposal, saying it would shift the Education Department into the construction business.
“We have provisions for emergencies and disasters declared by the president that have construction of public buildings that are damaged,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the top Republican on the panel. “This seems to be a pretty big jump from a crisis management plan to” being responsible for 50 percent of the cost of new schools.
The changes would affect a relatively small program inside the Education Department. Since 2001, the department has given more than $33.5 million to 106 schools recovering from violence or other disruptive incidents.
The proposal comes as senators rewrite the massive No Child Left Behind law that governs all schools that receive federal tax dollars. The Democratic-led panel is scrapping the one-sized-fits-all national requirements of No Child Left Behind and instead giving way to standards that states write for themselves.
Other changes agreed to include a requirement for schools to report how much money they spend on school sports — broken down by team and gender.
“They know how much money they’re spending. We’re just asking that it’s made public,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
As with most proposed changes, Republicans on the committee opposed measure.
“The girls’ softball coach … is going to spend more time filling out forms than working with girls,” Alexander said. “It’s hard for me to see how this is anything more than a huge burden on local schools.”
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