What You Need to Know about Recent Educational Bonds in California

By Michael Boomsma, P.E., CCM, LEED AP

There are 6.2 million students in the Californian K-12 public school system and 2.1 million students currently gaining invaluable transfer credit and workforce training in community colleges throughout the state. These students will soon benefit from improved educational facilities due to the passing of Proposition 51, a $9B general obligation bond that will provide funding for construction and building renovations at Districts in desperate need of safety and instructional upgrades. Along with Prop 51, there were nearly $25B in local school bonds passed in the last six months throughout the state. This $34B investment will have a significant impact in California education for several decades.

There’s been a lack of K-14 school funding in California since 2006. Many schools have a deep need to expand existing facilities to keep up with current enrollment and advances in instructional techniques. Several districts also have critical needs pertaining to the health and safety of their students. These issues include structural deficiencies, accessibility, and the removal of hazardous materials, all of which have funding provided via Proposition 51. Additional projects will involve the replacement of temporary buildings, capital repairs on educational facilities, improving the career technical education and charter school facilities or buying land for facility extension and constructing new buildings.

The need for upgraded study halls is stringent. 80% of the state’s students are attending classes in facilities that don’t meet statewide minimum infrastructure standards. There are schools in California with 50 year old buildings in desperate need of urgent seismic renovations and technology improvements just to meet current codes. Prop 51 will only cover a part of the budget for a complete renewal of our current educational infrastructure, as estimates show that a $853B investment is needed in California transportation, water and school facilities over the next decade just to meet current needs.

Opposition to Prop 51 centered around a few key points. There is a perception that school bond funds deepen the differences and gaps between wealthy and low income districts. As wealthy school districts spend more on facilities, some claim their applications for matching state funds will extract larger amounts from the budget due to the size of these larger projects. They have the means and the expertise to complete the complicated proposal process with expensive consultants, well before less fortunate districts can compete for these same funds. Funding rules stipulate that schools must cover 50% of project costs (60% in some cases) to receive state dollars. Some argue that disadvantaged districts might not have the financial power to meet these requirements.

Prop 51 opponents also noted the bond will increase the state’s debt and obligate Californians to pay $8.6 billion in interest payments over the life of the bonds. The budget will be covered by new taxes and services reductions, as the yearly $500 million paid to cover the program will be taken from the state’s General Fund budget.

Proposition 51 passed with 55.2% of the votes. Regardless of whether you supported the measure, the overall bipartisan support of educational facilities is to be admired. There are thousands of local stories that show the need for these policies and state support programs so that Californian students are granted access to a suitable learning environment. This is another example of California’s investment in the long term future of the state. These investments will have a deep impact on future generations of Californians.