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Safety, Growth, And Equity - School Facilities Policy Link)

Safety, Growth, And Equity - School Facilities Policy Link)

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Published by: annscann on Oct 30, 2008
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Across the country, aging infrastructure and a growingpopulation have led to a massive need for modernizingold schools and constructing new ones. Schoolconstruction costs reached an all-time high in 2004:nationally, over $29 billion was spent on K-12 schoolconstruction, and almost $51.4 billion is projected tobe spent during 2007-2009.
 While all states provide money for school districts’operating expenses, historically school buildingshave been considered local assets that were mostappropriately paid for by local taxpayers. As a result,districts with low property values or small proportionsof voters with school-aged children faced thesignificant challenge of raising revenues to improvethe quality and quantity of school buildings. Over timethis led to great inequity among schools in differentcommunities. With better understanding of the effectof facilities on student learning and with concernsabout adequacy and equity in providing schools, stateshave begun to play a larger role in paying for schoolcapital expenditures.In most cases, this larger role in funding schoolconstruction has been sparked by lawsuits. Plaintiffshave argued that disparity in the quality of schoolfacilities from district to district violates stateconstitutional requirements. Across the country, courtshave agreed, pushing states to adopt new policies thatprovide for more equitable investment in public schoolfacilities.Today, states’ share of school construction costs stillvaries significantly from place to place. Some statescontinue to provide little or no money for schoolfacilities construction, while others, such as Arizonaand Ohio, have assumed more responsibility for schoolconstruction planning and funding, contributing up to100 percent of construction costs.According to California law, the state is required tosplit the cost of new school construction projects 50-50 with local school districts. In reality, the state rarelypays its full half of the cost.
The Legislative Analyst’sOffice estimates that, on average, the state pays about40 percent of that cost.
Even if the state contributedits full half, significant disparity would continue toexist in the amount of state funds that reach differentdistricts. Several districts continue to have difficultyraising their local match; districts with higher propertyvalues are able to raise more funds via bond financingand, therefore, receive higher matching state fundsthan those that are property-poor. Further, theeligibility requirements that districts must meet inorder to access state funds systematically disadvantageurban and rural school districts; state funds for newschool construction flow, instead, to new suburbansprawl.The need for investment in increasing the quantity andquality of schools is particularly acute in California. Itspublic schools are among the most crowded in thenation. Three factors have primarily contributed to thisovercrowding: Proposition 13, demographic changes,and class-size reduction. In 1978, voters approvedProposition 13, which lowered property taxes, a main
Safety, Growth, and Equity:
School Facilities
by Richard Raya and Victor RubinFall 2006
First of a four-part series on infrastructure equity by PolicyLink.
source of school funding. The measure also requireda two-thirds’ vote—rather than a simple-majorityvote—for facilities bonds to be approved. This super-majority requirement significantly slowed new schoolconstruction while the state’s student populationgrew rapidly. Increases in immigration compounded asurge in birthrates throughout the 1980s and 1990s.The state’s student population, under 4 million in1980, grew to nearly 6 million by 2000. The need fornew classrooms was further compounded by policiesadopted in the late 1990s to reduce classroom sizes.Starting in 1996, districts were required to reduce classsizes or risk losing state funding.
 California is making positive strides toward increasingpublic investment in school facilities. The passage ofProposition 39 in 2000 reduced the two-thirds’ voterequirement for a local school construction bond toa 55 percent vote requirement. As of 2005, schooldistricts passed more than 250 local bond measuresfor more than $20 billion. Almost half of these wouldnot have passed if the super-majority vote was stillrequired.
In 2002 and 2004, voters approved twolarge statewide bond measures, Propositions 47 and55, which generated $21.4 billion in bond funds forK–12 school construction.The state also began to address equity issues in publicinvestment in schools. By passing Assembly Bill 16 (AB16), which created the Critically Overcrowded Schools(COS) program, the legislature allowed districts with ahigh ratio of students per acre to reserve state fundsthrough a preliminary apportionment system. Thebill acknowledged that inner city school districts facea scarcity of available land for the construction ofnew schools, and therefore take longer to completean application, losing out in a first come, first servefunding system with finite resources. By giving thesedistricts the ability to reserve funds for up to four yearsbefore submitting a complete application, the bill gavethem more time to find and develop sites and qualifyfor state funding. This step forward eliminated onesignificant barrier that previously made it difficult formany overcrowded urban districts and for those thatfaced fiscal, administrative, and other constraints toaccess state funds for school construction. However,not enough state funds were set aside to eliminateovercrowding, and certain program eligibility rulescontinued to make it difficult for some of thesedistricts to participate in the program.
In 2004, the state also entered into a landmarksettlement in the case of
Williams v. State of California
, a class-action lawsuit that challengedthe state to provide all California students withbasic educational necessities, including adequateschool facilities. The state allocated an additional$800 million toward emergency repairs for schoolfacilities. In 2005, following the
settlement,PolicyLink and the Mexican American Legal Defenseand Educational Fund (MALDEF) released a report thatincluded recommendations for addressing the truelevel of overcrowding in the state and resolving stateconstruction program eligibility barriers. PolicyLinkand MALDEF worked with legislators, advocates, andgrassroots organizations such as the AdvancementProject, Californians for Justice, and the EducationalJustice Collaborative to publicize the overcrowdingcrisis and proposed solutions. In 2006, GovernorArnold Schwarzenegger and several legislatorsagreed that a new school bond was needed to meetthe demands of a growing population as well as anaging and overcrowded inventory of school facilities.Legislative staff cited the PolicyLink and MALDEFreport in committee hearings on the bond; PolicyLinkand MALDEF staff were also invited to provide experttestimony at these hearings. The governor and thelegislature signed off on a $7.3 billion, K–12 schoolfacilities bond proposal, with $1 billion set asidespecifically for overcrowded schools. Language wasincluded in this proposal that would attempt toresolve the program eligibility barriers described in thePolicyLink/MALDEF report.
The need for investment in increasing the quantity andquality of schools is particularly acute in California. Its publicschools are among the most crowded in the nation.
I. Community Participationin Policy and Programming:Local Activism, Coalitions, andLitigation
States that lead the nation in providing equitableinvestment in school facilities have done so in responseto litigation. Whether courts issued rulings or statessettled with plaintiffs, lawsuits have raised awarenessand spurred action on behalf of children. Seventeenstates have revised school facilities funding as a resultof education finance litigation, and 35 states haveresolved or are currently involved in litigation relatedto school facilities adequacy.
Under court order, manyof these states increased their support for schoolconstruction and renovation.
: Hold states accountable to theirconstitutional obligation to provide equitableeducational opportunities for all students.
Litigation on behalf of low-income communities andcommunities of color has been an important tool inpushing states to take responsibility for educationaladequacy and to redress inequities in the states’facilities funding mechanisms.
’s Supreme Court ruled in 1994 in
Roosevelt Elementary School District No. 66 et al. v. Bishop
 that the state’s school capital finance system wasunconstitutional because it failed to conform to theconstitution’s “general and uniform” clause. The courtinterpreted the state’s constitution to require fundingto provide school facilities that would enable studentsto meet the state’s student competency standards.
New Jersey
’s constitution requires the state to providea “thorough and efficient” system of public schooleducation.
In the
 Abbott v. Burke
decision in May1997, the New Jersey Supreme Court pointed out that“deteriorating physical facilities relate to the State’seducational obligation, and (the court) continuallyhas noted that adequate physical facilities are anessential component of that constitutional mandate.”In that same decision, the court specifically addressedthe disparity between poor and wealthier schooldistricts, observing that the state’s poorest districtshad “dilapidated, unsafe, and overcrowded facilities”and that the state “cannot expect disadvantagedchildren to learn when they are relegated to buildingsthat are unsafe and often incapable of housing thevery programs needed to educate them.” The courtdecided that (1) the state was constitutionally obligedto provide facilities for public school children thatensured them a “thorough and efficient” educationand (2) the quality of the facilities could not dependon the districts’ willingness or ability to raise taxesor incur debt. The court required that the legislatureequalize per-pupil expenditures across poor urban andwealthy suburban districts.
constitution also requires the state toprovide a “thorough and efficient” public schooleducation to the students in the state. The OhioSupreme Court held that “a thorough system couldnot mean one in which part or any number of theschool districts of the state was starved for funds. Anefficient system could not mean one in which part orany number of the school districts in the state lackedteachers, buildings, or equipment.” The 1997 case,
DeRolph v. State,
declared Ohio’s entire K–12 systemwas unconstitutional; students were not receiving a“thorough and efficient” education because of thedeficient physical state of the schools that resultedfrom over-reliance on local property taxes and on thelack of sufficient funding in the General Assembly’sbiannual budget for constructing and maintainingpublic school buildings.
: Engage stakeholders to help build andmaintain momentum for change.Arizona
redesigned its education capital expenditurefinance system from one that relied heavily on localproperty taxes to one that placed primary responsibilityon the state. This change took place over a seven-year period. While it began with a lawsuit in 1991, itwas reinvigorated in 1995 by a public engagementprocess initiated by the State Superintendent of PublicInstruction and formalized by the Students FIRSTstatute that was enacted in 1998.Inaction on the part of legislators and the governorfollowing the lawsuit had prompted the StateSuperintendent to convene a three-day EducationFinance summit in 1995. The summit was attendedby a diverse array of stakeholders, from legislatorsto parents. Significant media coverage of this eventhelped to build and maintain momentum aroundschool facilities finance reform.
Promising Practices

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