California’s job climate depends on an educated workforce and, as such, investment in our schools is a critical component of creating a strong economic future for our state.
Yet, too often, we see crumbling schools in our communities with students struggling to achieve in pitiful surroundings. A growing body of credible research shows that student performance is dramatically improved when learning environments are safe, clean, well lit and comfortable.
Historically, the state has shared in funding needed improvements or construction of new schools along with local school districts. The voters last passed a school construction bond in 2006 for this purpose. The money from that bond is now virtually gone to match funds provided by local school districts. In order to replenish this vital fund, legislators must pass a bond measure by the second week of August to make the deadline for the November ballot.
Currently, there are more than 10,000 schools serving more than 6 million students in California. The majority of these schools were built 50 to 80 years ago, and they don’t provide optimal learning environments for growing numbers of students.
The story of our public schools is now one of broken air and heating systems, leaking pipes, nonfunctioning toilets, deteriorating classrooms and lack of access to technology. Recently, the Office of Public School Construction estimated that California needs up to $16 billion to build and modernize new and existing schools, keep up with technological demands and manage anticipated rising student enrollment.
To help mitigate the huge costs associated with improving our schools, local communities must raise two-thirds of the money needed with the state providing partial matching funds. This is done through one of the most successful local-state partnership models around – the School Facilities Program, which has been in effect since 1998.
As part of this partnership, Californians must periodically approve a statewide school bond to fund the state’s obligation and ensure local agencies can continue to fix and modernize campuses. The need for legislators to pass this bond now and get it on the November ballot is critical, especially as we are staring at higher interest rates. If there is further delay, fixing our schools will become significantly more expensive.
In addition, waiting longer will create a funding gap that will put pressure on already skittish homebuyers and a struggling economy.
As things stand now, there is a pipeline of hundreds of housing construction projects that will bring families and eager students to areas that need new or improved schools. Most of the projects have already secured the necessary local funding. If the state does not or cannot meet its obligation, many districts will be forced to turn to local residents or new homebuyers to bridge the gap between what they have and what they need.
Absent a new bond, each housing unit could rise by as much as $30,000. This would decimate struggling housing markets by deterring first-time homebuyers and, subsequently, harming our economic recovery due to significant job losses.
With so many of us still reeling from the economic crash, the urge to rest easy on the first state budget surplus in a decade is understandable. However, as discussions continue about investing in California, let’s not forget the lessons of the great recession and make sure we remain mindful of the future economic security of our state.
The economic realities we face in California are a major reason that a broad and bipartisan coalition of supporters has emerged to support legislation authored by Assemblymembers Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, and Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills.
Labor, business, local government, school officials, and Democratic and Republican legislators agree that the time is now to pass a bond so we can restore state funding for the School Facilities Program. People have put aside their differences and come together because every California student needs access to an optimal learning environment. A continued investment in students and our schools will fuel a strong economy today and tomorrow.
Allan Zaremberg is president and CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce. David W. Gordon is superintendent of Sacramento County schools.