Compared to the rest of the nation, California is about average in what it spends on school facilities – but that’s average among a nation of “underspenders,” according to a report released Wednesday.
Comparing historic spending against building industry and best-practice standards, the researchers estimated that national spending falls short by about $46 billion – an annual shortfall of 32 percent, according to “State of Our Schools: America’s K-12 Facilities,” a report by the Center for Green Schools and two other national nonprofit organizations.
To meet industry standards, schools would need to spend on maintenance and improvements a portion of what it would cost to replace the building – about 7 percent each year. In California, that’s an additional $6.7 billion or $1,083 per student each year, according to the report by the center, the National Council on School Facilities and the 21st Century School Fund.
This lack of investment in school facilities “matters because we have a lot of buildings that are unhealthy for children and don’t have sufficient facilities to meet curriculum needs, such as computers and science labs,” said Jeff Vincent, deputy director of the Center for Cities + Schools in the Institute of Urban and Regional Development at UC Berkeley. “All of this is impacting achievement. Implications of not fixing it are pretty profound.”
Vincent acted as a consultant on the report, which is based on the methodology he used in a paper reviewing California’s spending on school facilities from 2008 through 2012.
To remedy the situation, the nation would also need to funnel much of the funding to schools in low-income neighborhoods, according to the report. Wealthier neighborhoods are more capable of raising funds for schools and generally have better quality facilities, the report said.
In California, districts in poorer communities have less funding for capital improvements to refurbish and modernize their buildings, Vincent said. As the buildings grow older, the districts have to spend more on maintenance and repairs than wealthier districts.
“This undermines the objectives of the Local Control Funding Formula,” he said. “These poor districts are undercapitalized. They are forced to spend more out of general operating budgets on emergency repairs.”
The federal government provides almost no support for school facilities, leaving it up to state and local school districts to finance repairs and new construction, the report said.
In California, voters have approved $35 billion in school bonds since 1998. But the last measure was passed in 2006, and the state has run out of bond money.
Gov. Jerry Brown has suggested that schools use funding from the Local Control Funding Formula to finance school facilities. But others believe the state needs to continue to provide dedicated funds. Supporters of an initiative to raise $9 billion in school bonds have gathered enough signatures to place it on the November ballot. Brown has said he opposes the bond because the amount is too high and would allocate funds on a first-come, first-served basis, making it more difficult for smaller districts to get their share.
The report covers the period from 1994 to 2013 when California spent just over $909 per student on maintenance and operations, which includes minor repairs, utilities and school security. That’s $130 below the national average. During those same years, the state spent $1,079 per student on school construction projects, which is $71 higher than the national average.
The cost of maintaining and building schools is also higher in California than any other state, according to the report. That cost combined with average per-pupil spending means that California’s schools are more crowded than the typical U.S. school, Vincent said.