Opinion: California’s children cannot thrive in dilapidated schools

February 19, 2020

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How can we provide a 21st century education at outdated and under-equipped campuses?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.

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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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