April 13, 2019

Construction bond reform plan sparks debate: Why do wealthier school districts get the most state building aid?

For the past few years, a small group of advocates for equitable school construction has been examining how school districts with small tax bases and low-income families can get a bigger share of state funding to upgrade school facilities. Now, they say, there is an opportunity to make that happen.

On Wednesday, the Assembly Education Committee took the first step, by passing Assembly Bill 48, toward placing two K-12 and community college construction bonds of as-yet undetermined size before voters in 2020 and in 2022, citing a huge unmet need for upgrading and building schools.

The biggest question is whether the state should change the current “first-come first-served” system of matching grants to districts to one that targets money to the neediest districts. The issue is timely because while the state spends billions to support the operations of K-12 schools, building construction is funded largely by bonds through local property taxes. A new plan to ask the public to support a bond to pay for school construction is prompting discussion on just how the money should be allocated.

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