POLICY (Facilities Funding)
Increased enrollment in schools and elevated standards in education have intensified the need for adequate funding for public schools. The struggle between books and bricks unfolds in all but the most affluent communities. The result often is maintenance that only responds to crisis, such as no heat or a roof collapse. In many schools, a quiet decline begins, eventually reduces parental and teacher satisfaction with the school, and sends them to other schools or communities to live and work.
While some school districts can adequately fund their educational programs and facilities, this is not true in districts with large proportions of children from low-income families. Within states, there are districts with adequate funding and those without; these disparities create great inequity in the state’s provision of public education.
To ensure that there are stable and sufficient funds for public school facilities and that they are allocated equitably and efficiently.
Economic growth boosted spending for school facilities improvements in many communities in recent years; prosperity, however, passed by too many children if they attended classes in poor districts. For these children, an unsatisfying quality of life and an inappropriate learning environment essentially remain unchanged. Recent fluctuations in the economy and inconsistent funding levels create challenges when planning for necessary and required capital improvements.
No matter how healthy the economy is, the competition is stiff for school district funding. School facilities maintenance contends for the same dollars as teacher and staff compensation, new technology, new textbooks, and special education. Without adequate operating funds, districts defer maintenance. That often means they cannot relieve overcrowding, cannot modify classrooms to support the desired educational practices and cannot achieve academic goals. The ripple effects of the decision to neglect maintenance are long-term and far-reaching, hitting academic programs, neighborhood revitalization and student access to high-quality programs and services.
Property taxes pump money into most operating and capital budgets for public schools and can aggravate inequities with per-student spending based on residency. Students in more affluent districts, based upon the assessable base per student, can access more educational and enrichment opportunities than students living in less affluent school districts. Several court cases have examined this issue, including questions about comparable school facilities, and have required legislative action to remedy inequitable situations. Some states offer financial support for public school construction and capital improvement projects, but the programs vary in type and support. Other states do not provide them at all.
To ensure that equitable public school facilities exist in every district, states must take a proactive role. States should review existing processes to determine how successful they are in achieving comparable facilities in all districts and within districts. If states do no have such programs, they should explore their options and develop school construction and capital improvement programs that deliver equitable facilities and educational opportunities for all.