Why Obama’s school rehab plan may flop
The point of President Barack Obama’s American Jobs Act is, well, to create jobs. And the sooner the better, right? Unemployment is above 9 percent, and everyone from Wall Street to the Congressional Budget Office to the White House now thinks that number isn’t going to improve anytime soon. Thus Obama’s new $450 billion stimulus plan. But since this new proposal is structured just like 2009’s $800 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, it should be no surprise that it contains many of the same flaws as Stimulus 1.0.
Example: Yesterday, Obama traveled to Fort Hayes High School in Columbus, Ohio to promote his plan, particularly the bit about spending $25 billion to refurbish 35,000 American schools. Here is some color from The Columbus Dispatch:
Obama toured Fort Hayes Arts and Academic High School, a campus of Columbus City Schools buildings, some of which date back to the Civil War era and have undergone significant upgrades. The president’s jobs plan calls for the $25 billion to modernize 35,000 schools nationwide. Ohio could get up to $985.5 million, with up to $111.6 million for Columbus City Schools. “I wouldn’t mind taking a few classes here,” said Obama, who used Fort Hayes as an example of upgrades and jobs created to complete those upgrades that could take place throughout the U.S. If his bill is passed. “The renovation of Fort Hayes is a great example of where those jobs can come from if we can finally get our act together in Washington,” Obama said.
But what Fort Hayes High School really exemplifies is how long it will take for this new round of government spending to show any employment results. Some $55 million in renovations on the campus began in March 2003, starting with design work, and were originally scheduled to be completed by March of 2007. Different projects started at different times, with each scheduled to take about three years to complete. Heck, it takes months just to do the necessary architectural planning. In short, there will be nothing “shovel ready” about these education infrastructure projects. If we want to upgrade U.S. schools, fine. But the effort will make for a poor 2012 jobs plan.
And, of course, there are always concerns about how efficiently this money would be spent. In 2010, Los Angeles opened its new Robert F. Kennedy High School, costing $578 million. Here’s how ABC News described it:
The new campus between Wilshire Boulevard and 8th Street in Los Angeles preserve pieces of the historic hotel, but it’s the stunning new architecture that’s drawing eyes and plenty of wagging fingers.
The soaring, unusually shaped buildings are clad in glass and metal, and the interiors are just as slick. The facility boasts a state-of-the-art swimming pool, fine art murals, an ornate auditorium suitable for hosting the Oscars, and a faculty dining room that the superintendent says is “better than most restaurants.”
All those amenities add up to an enormous price tag, which works out to about $250,000 per pupil. That $578 million cost is more expensive than the Bird’s Nest stadium built for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, which cost $500 million. It’s also significantly more expensive than the $400 million home of the Denver Broncos, Invesco Field at Mile High.
So a) all this new spending would not create many jobs anytime soon — even if you buy its Keynesian rationale — and b) the rush to spend money may result in plenty of waste just as with the LA high school and the loan guarantees to solar-panel maker Solyndra.