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by Keith Miller 

As outlined in a recent report from UC Berkeley’s Center for Cities and Schools, Going It Alone, years of funding shortages have taken a toll on school facilities in California.

“Analysis of facilities spending trends by California school districts shows that, compared to industry standards, there is an ongoing, structural pattern of inadequate and inequitable facility spending in many California public K-12 schools,” the authors state. “This trend signals costly long-term consequences, as accumulated facility needs risk becoming a health and safety crisis.”

There are several signs that school officials and parents in communities throughout the state are taking steps to address these issues. In June, voters approved more than 35 local bond measures for school construction and modernization. All told, these measures represent plans to invest nearly $6 billion to create improved learning environments for students. 

In addition, a $9 billion statewide school construction bond will be on the ballot in November, the first such bond that has been put before voters since 2006. In part, these funds could help address a backlog of $2 billion in K-12 project applications. 

There is significant support for the measure, known as the Kindergarten Through Community College Public Education Facilities Bond Act, or Proposition 51. A Yes on Proposition 51 Campaign has been endorsed by scores of districts, educational associations, public officials and business organizations. Supporters include Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. 

These bond measures, in combination with two more years of Proposition 39 funding for energy projects on school campuses, have the potential to create real opportunities for change. A publicly searchable data base of Prop 39-funded projects offers insights into the kinds of progress that are already underway.

Setting the mechanics of funding aside, it’s a fact that policy and code continue to raise the bar regarding building efficiency and health. Schools represent a significant portion of public sector holdings, and it’s also a fact that policy goals such as a 50 percent improvement in the efficiency of existing buildings cannot be attained without major investments in this sector. 

The coming months should include lively discussions about how this can be accomplished, a good sign for communities, students, parents and teachers. 

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