Chris Schodt / Elie Khadra for EdSource
Many schools rely on temporary facilities, such as these portable classrooms in Fresno.

We are making steady progress in better educating our students for success. Our statewide graduation rate for the Class of 2018 was 83 percent, up from 74.7 percent in 2010. We’ve made significant investment in what and how we are teaching our children.

Bina Lefkovitz

The same can’t be said, however, about investments we are making in the places where we are teaching them.

Many of our school buildings are obsolete or badly in need of modernization. Our kids need safe, energy-efficient buildings. They need clean drinking water. They need access to new technology to prepare for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

The Sacramento County Board of Education unanimously has approved a resolution supporting Proposition 13, the $15 billion statewide bond measure on the March 3 ballot that would provide vital funds to make desperately needed repairs and improvements to California’s pre-kindergarten-through-high schools and public university buildings. (This bond measure is not to be confused with the famous 1978 Proposition 13, which restricted property tax increases.)

How can we provide a 21st century education at outdated and under-equipped campuses? We can’t. That is why this bond measure would provide critically needed investments.

David Gordon

According to the Center for Cities and Schools at UC Berkeley’s Institute of Urban and Regional Development, nearly “80 percent of students attend districts failing to meet minimum industry standard benchmarks for facilities maintenance and operations spending, capital renewal spending, or both.”

Millions of California students attend school in obsolete, unsafe, unhealthy buildings. This is not contributing to the overall well-being of our young people.

If approved, the bond measure will provide $9 billion for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade public schools capital improvements. Charter and technical schools would get $100 million. And $6 billion would go to our community college and four-year university systems.

Because, in some cases, districts would be required to come up with local matching funds, raising debt caps would make it easier for our neediest schools and districts to qualify for state funding. Also, past statewide bonds have split funding between new construction and renovations, but this measure ensures most of the funding — $9 billion — will go for renovation or repair.

Given the advanced age of our local school facilities, this is a benefit. According to Ed-Data, a partnership of the California Department of Education, EdSource and Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team, “more than two-thirds of California’s public school buildings are more than 25 years old.” So, because many buildings are old and districts have not had funds for proper maintenance, many schools need repair.

Historically, California school construction has been funded using a “first-come, first-served” method involving matching grants regardless of where students live. But we know schools in the worst shape are often in the neediest neighborhoods. We need equity: this bond measure would ensure our neediest districts get financial support.

California businesses desperately need a well-trained workforce and the bond measure would be a significant investment in upgrading facilities to help train tomorrow’s workers. The bond also would assign $500 million for modernizing training facilities for career and vocational training programs in our schools, helping to better prepare a young workforce. The bond is the result of Assembly Bill 48, a measure the Legislature passed and the governor signed last year authorizing the measure to appear on the ballot. That bill passed overwhelmingly — by 78 to 1 in the Assembly and by 35 to 4 in the state Senate. California voters last passed a school bond measure in 2016 with 55 percent of the vote.  We are hoping that they will do the same on this newest bond measure.

Too many of our school buildings are dilapidated, archaic and even unhealthy. We must make our public schools safe, inviting places to learn. We must invest in our children because they are our greatest resource to ensure a healthy and prosperous future.

•••

Bina Lefkovitz is the president of the Sacramento County Board of Education. David W. Gordon is Sacramento County Superintendent of Schools.

The opinions in this commentary are those of the author. It is one of a series of commentaries EdSource is publishing expressing a range of views on the school bond measure on the March 3 ballot. As a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization EdSource takes no position on the ballot measure.  Read other perspectives here.

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  1. J 5 months ago5 months ago

    All the money is going to the pockets of construction companies. Is there a provision in the bill that will itemize the cost? I’m sure that taxpayers are being over charged.

  2. Jack 5 months ago5 months ago

    After posting my previous comment (question) I located some information on the website of the California Legislative Analyst Office: Link to source: https://lao.ca.gov/Publications/Report/3821 New State Bond Approved in 2016. After ten years without approving a state school bond, voters approved Proposition 51 in November 2016. The measure authorizes the state to sell $7 billion in general obligation bonds for K-12 school facilities projects (in addition to $2 billion for community college projects). Figure 1 shows … Read More

    After posting my previous comment (question) I located some information on the website of the California Legislative Analyst Office:

    Link to source: https://lao.ca.gov/Publications/Report/3821

    New State Bond Approved in 2016.
    After ten years without approving a state school bond, voters approved Proposition 51 in November 2016. The measure authorizes the state to sell $7 billion in general obligation bonds for K-12 school facilities projects (in addition to $2 billion for community college projects). Figure 1 shows Proposition 51 funding allocated to date and the funding that remains available. As of late April 2018, the state had apportioned less than 10 percent of Proposition 51 school funding. In contrast to other state infrastructure projects that are authorized through the state’s annual budget cycle, Proposition 51 awards K-12 facilities funding through a continuous appropriation, whereby projects are to be funded as the state processes the associated applications. The state appears to use the continuous appropriation approach because it may fund so many school facility projects in any given year that itemizing each project within the state budget would be impractical.

    (GO TO THE LINK ABOVE TO SEE A USEFUL TABLE WHICH IS NOT INCLUDED HERE BECAUSE IT WOULD NOT FORMAT CORRECTLY)

    School Districts Raise SFP Matching Funds Primarily Through Sale of Local Bonds.
    School districts typically raise their share of facilities funding through the sale of local general obligation bonds, which require local voter approval and are repaid through local property taxes. From November 2002 through November 2017, voters approved $99 billion in local general obligation bonds for schools, of which $39 billion remains unspent. In addition to generating funding through local bonds, schools have raised $10 billion from fees charged on residential and commercial development since 1998. Schools also can raise facilities funding using various other methods, including parcel taxes, but they raise substantially less through these other methods.

  3. Jack 5 months ago5 months ago

    In 2016, California voters passed Proposition 51 – a $9 Billion bond measure. Where did that $9 Billion go? How was it used and in which school districts and community colleges? It would be interesting to see how those funds have been directed. Anyone know of a source for securing this information?

  4. SD Parent 5 months ago5 months ago

    This piece does a good job on all the positive aspects of the proposition but skips over the more negative aspects. I applaud the more equitable points-based system to award bond funds, but what about how Prop 13 shifts the burden of additional school capacity away from developers of multifamily housing (for which Prop 13 exempts or reduces school district developer fees) onto school districts? School districts' source of revenue for these projects are … Read More

    This piece does a good job on all the positive aspects of the proposition but skips over the more negative aspects. I applaud the more equitable points-based system to award bond funds, but what about how Prop 13 shifts the burden of additional school capacity away from developers of multifamily housing (for which Prop 13 exempts or reduces school district developer fees) onto school districts?

    School districts’ source of revenue for these projects are local school bonds. Not only would this debt paid by local property owners (instead of the developers), but it would create more inequity in facilities due to any given local community’s willingness and ability to approve local bond measure and the inequities of real estate value in that community.

    Prop 13’s increase in the debt limit for issuing bonds may sound good to school district leadership, but perhaps they forget that this also allows property owners to be saddled with higher debt payments based on a property’s assessed value, not a positive for homeowners and particularly new buyers during this time of record high home pricing.

    The Legislature has time to put a “clean” school bond measure on the November 2020 ballot instead of one loaded with unpalatable loopholes that aren’t good for schools and their communities.