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On Uncle Sam's role in public schools, Republicans have it backward

Federal construction money is OK; No Child Left Behind isn't.

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Hey, look out for the Big Bad Federal Government! It's coming soon, to build a school near you.

That's what Republicans are saying about President Obama's stimulus plan, which includes $20 billion for school building and renovation.

Throughout American history, the story goes, school construction has been a local or state concern. But under Mr. Obama's plan, the federal government would stick its nose where it doesn't belong.

Listen to Rep. Howard P. McKeon (R) of California and the ranking member of the House education committee: "By putting the federal government in the business of building schools, Democrats may be irrevocably changing the federal government's role in education in this country." There's only one problem with this claim: It's not true.

During our last great economic crisis, in the 1930s, the federal government spent heavily on school construction. And it happened under – you guessed it – a Democratic president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose New Deal devoted more than $1 billion to build and repair schools.

Even more, the GOP objection ignores the truly unprecedented expansion of federal authority that occurred under the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). And that measure was signed into law by a president, George W. Bush.

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