To boost the sinking economy, government needs to invest in modernizing and upgrading school buildings, expanding broadband internet access, making public buildings more energy efficient, and launching a public works program to rebuild the nation’s highways, said President-elect Barack Obama in a Dec. 6 radio address.
The address, which is also available on YouTube, came a day after the government reported that employers cut 533,000 jobs in November, the most in 34 years. The plans are part of a vision for a massive economic recovery program Obama wants Congress to pass and have waiting on his desk when he takes office Jan. 20.
He offered no price estimate for the grand plan, nor stipulations for how the money might be divided or its effect on the country’s financial health at a time of burgeoning deficits. However, a recent report by the Center for American Progress suggested a spending plan of $350 billion in the first year of economic stimulus and recovery. Obama’s transition co-chair, John Podesta, is currently on a leave of absence from his position as president and chief executive of the center.
A few of the initiatives outlined in Obama’s address also can be found in the center’s study, written by Will Straw, associate director for economic growth, and Michael Ettlinger, vice president for economic policy.
"My economic recovery plan will launch the most sweeping effort to modernize and upgrade school buildings that this country has ever seen," Obama said in the address. "We will repair broken schools, make them more energy-efficient, and put new computers in our classrooms. Because to help our children compete in a 21st-century economy, we need to send them to 21st-century schools."
In Straw’s and Ettlinger’s report, they recommend that a total of $20 billion be spent to address the nearly one-third of schools that have one or more temporary buildings housing an average of 160 students each–and the hundreds of billions of estimated dollars needed to bring school facilities to good condition.
The report suggests that $7.25 billion should be spent immediately to support state and local green school construction and modernization projects. It suggests an additional $12.75 billion be spent on school districts to eliminate years of deferred maintenance, particularly in schools in low-income communities. The study claims that those two measures could create 250,000 skilled maintenance and repair jobs and supply $6 billion of materials and supplies.
Obama’s proposed upgrades to schools are part of a larger plan to make all public buildings more energy-efficient. The U.S. government currently pays the highest energy bill in the world, according to the president-elect.
Weekly Address from the President-Elect
"We need to change that. We need to upgrade our federal buildings by replacing old heating systems and installing efficient light bulbs. That won’t just save you, the American taxpayer, billions of dollars each year. It will put people back to work," Obama said.
The president-elect also said he plans to make sure that all children have access to broadband internet service. On his transition web site, change.gov, Obama said he plans to get broadband to every community in the nation through a combination of reforming the Universal Service Fund; making better use of the nation’s wireless spectrum; promoting next-generation facilities, technologies, and applications; and implementing new loan programs and tax incentives.
"It is unacceptable that the United States ranks 15th in the world in broadband adoption. Here, in the country that invented the internet, every child should have the chance to get online, and they’ll get that chance when I’m president–because that’s how we’ll strengthen America’s competitiveness in the world," he said.
The Center for American Progress study suggested that $5 billion be spent to help build the infrastructure necessary to enhance access and increase demand for broadband, creating 97,500 new jobs. Straw and Ettlinger suggest that $335 million of the $5 billion be used to fully fund the Broadband Data Improvement Act, which gives states a clearer picture of where gaps in broadband availability currently exist.
On Dec. 2, a coalition of representatives form telecommunications firms, technology advocacy groups, and technology trade associations issued a call to action urging Obama to make the development and initial implementation of a comprehensive national broadband strategy a high priority when he takes office in January. The coalition included groups such as AT&T, Verizon, the Telecommunications Industry Association, Google, Public Knowledge, and Free Press.
According to the coalition’s call to action, "Too many Americans still do not have access to affordable broadband or lack the equipment or knowledge to use it effectively. If the United States is to remain a leader in the global economy, our broadband networks must also be robust enough to enable our people, businesses, and public and private institutions to take full advantage of emerging and future bandwidth-intensive and quality-sensitive applications."
The largest piece of Obama’s plan to revive the economy would occur through a job-creating public works plan on a scale unseen since the building of the interstate highway system in the 1950s.
Obama said his plan would employ millions of people, saving or creating 2.5 million jobs for the nearly 2 million people who have already lost their jobs.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
Note to readers:
Don’t forget to visit the “Creating the 21 st Century Classroom” resource center. Preparing today’s youth to succeed in the digital economy requires a new kind of teaching and learning. Skills such as global literacy, computer literacy, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and innovation have become critical in today’s increasingly interconnected workforce and society–and technology is the catalyst for bringing these changes into the classroom. Go to Creating-the-21st-century-classroom