Billions Slated For Area Schools, Transportation

Metro has set priorities for the stimulus money; the system was heavily used during President Obama's inauguration.
Metro has set priorities for the stimulus money; the system was heavily used during President Obama's inauguration. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
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By Maria Glod, Michael Laris and Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 14, 2009

The federal economic stimulus package will pour more than $3.8 billion into education and $1.6 billion into road and mass transit projects for the District, Virginia and Maryland, officials said yesterday.

As new details emerged about the bill's provisions, state and local officials eagerly anticipated a boom in new projects along with expanded benefits for the needy, including boosts in Medicaid and food stamp assistance.

Because of its position as the seat of government, the Washington area also is expected to benefit from billions being channeled into federal agencies for construction, research and other programs, officials said.

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, who is seeking to reshape teacher pay scales and weed out low performers, said the federal seed money for innovation included in the bill is a "great idea." Loudoun County educators said the extra money could help keep class sizes small for students with autism. Montgomery School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast said the influx of cash will help pay to educate the growing number of students from poor families and those with special needs. And Prince George's County officials plan to rewire Doswell E. Brooks Elementary School, where the electrical system is so decrepit that only a few computers can be used at a time.

Overall, D.C. schools would be entitled to receive $227 million, Virginia schools more than $2 billion, and Maryland schools about $1.5 billion, according to the National Education Association. That money would help renovate almost 340 schools, White House officials said.

The more than $1.6 billion for transportation represents a fraction of what officials said is needed to unclog roads in a region beset with some of the country's worst commutes. But hungry transportation officials sprang into action yesterday to take advantage of the expected infusion, after years of insufficient investments and months of recession-savaged tax revenues.

On funding for highways and bridges, the District would be eligible for $123.5 million, Virginia would be able to receive $694.5 million and Maryland, $431 million.

"Our transportation funding situation is so dire that every single penny helps," said Virginia Secretary of Transportation Pierce R. Homer.

Officials in Richmond, Annapolis and beyond watched uneasily this week as congressional negotiators hashed out arcane but critical tweaks in the bill's transportation language. One key question was what the bill would consider as a state's jumping-off point for receiving new federal funding.

Yesterday, as part of a bid to meet the bill's requirements that new federal funding cover areas beyond what states had planned to pay for, Virginia officials voted to reduce by $2 billion the size of the state's six-year highway construction program. The overall transportation plan now totals $8.9 billion. That reflects a longstanding plan, but the timing of yesterday's move will ease the receipt of new federal funds.

"We have a very, very serious situation with our transportation revenues, and the stimulus funds help to offset some of these reductions," Homer said.

Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) echoed that view, saying Virginia is "fully prepared to take advantage of the money available." He cited the roads around Fort Belvoir, which is slated to receive thousands of new Defense workers, as a key project which he hopes will be funded.

While the amount Metro is to receive remained unclear yesterday, system officials have prioritized $325 million worth of "shovel-ready" capital projects that include new vehicles and parts, maintenance programs and safety measures.

The District is entitled to $124.9 million in mass transit and rail funds, according to figures from the House's Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Virginia's share of the bill's transit and rail pot totals $116.1 million, and Maryland's cut would be $179.3 million, according to the figures.

State and District officials said yesterday that they did not have precise totals for how their localities would benefit from the $787 billion stimulus bill because some of it involves competitive grants, and other parts involve allotments of cash to be divided according to complex formulas.

The bill provides $650 million to start construction of the new Department of Homeland Security headquarters on the site of St. Elizabeths Hospital, east of the Anacostia River, according to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.). That has been a priority for Norton, who sees it as kick-starting development in the area.

"This is just fabulous news for the District," Norton said.

The District and surrounding states will get crucial budget aid from increased Medicaid assistance. Under the stimulus, Maryland will receive an extra $1.63 billion over the next two years, the District will get $300 million and Virginia $1.47 billion, according to estimates from the Government Accountability Office.

The bill provides a big boost in food stamps: $255 million for Maryland, $63 million for the District and $356 million for Virginia, according to Senate Appropriations Committee estimates.

Homeowners in the D.C. area may benefit from a program that will send money to states and the District to help weatherize modest-income homes. The stimulus measure will supply $63 million to Maryland for that purpose, $8 million to the District and $97 million to Virginia, according to Appropriations Committee estimates.

The bill also calls for the Smithsonian Institution to receive $25 million to fix its buildings and facilities, according to Norton. And about $4.5 billion will be spent to make federal buildings across the country more energy efficient.

Staff writer Lena H. Sun contributed to this report.

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