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Newsom would resume partnership on facility funding

Newsom would resume partnership on facility funding

By Tom Chorneau

K-12 Daily

January 14, 2019

(Calif.) School facility managers might be relieved to learn that Gov. Gavin Newsom appears inclined to provide districts the state’s traditional share of funding for classroom construction and remodeling projects.

As part of Newsom’s January budget, released late last week, the governor is proposing to sell $1.5 billion in bonds approved by voters in 2016 to help clear a backlog of projects estimated to exceed $5 billion.

The governor also wants to commit to an ongoing increase of $1.2 million to hire additional staff at the Office of Public School Construction to increase efficiencies for processing grant applications and overall workload.

These moves stand in sharp contrast to Newsom’s predecessor, former Gov. Jerry Brown, who was almost hostile to the idea of the state continuing to serve as a partner with local districts on school facility projects.

Under Brown, virtually no new state facility funds were made available after 2012.

In addition to Newsom’s plan, legislation has already been introduced that would place new statewide school bond measures before voters in both 2020 and 2022.

“The state has a responsibility to ensure that students are housed in safe facilities that meet educational needs,” said Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, author of the bill, in a statement.  “AB 48 will continue the state’s partnership with local school and community college districts by providing state matching funds for construction. As a teacher, I know firsthand that the conditions of our schools affect student health, performance and motivation.”

The sudden pivot in policy no doubt comes as welcome news to school districts that have been scrambling to find the money needed to upgrade aging facilities or, in some cases, build new ones to accommodate growth.

The position of the prior administration was likely rooted in Brown’s famously tight-fisted approach to governance and the huge “wall of debt” he inherited after the 2008 recession.

The former governor twice resisted legislative proposals to place a new statewide bond before voters. As part of his 2015 January budget, Brown criticized the School Facilities Program as overly complex and cumbersome. He proposed reducing the state’s role as a full-share partner in cost sharing—an idea that was rejected by the Legislature.

In 2016, the funding pool for school projects nearly ran dry, triggering for the first time in state history developer fees on home builders to cover the state’s share.

Over Brown’s objection, local school officials and the state’s building industry successfully sponsored Proposition 51, which provided $7 billion in borrowing authority.

Even after that, however, Brown agreed to release only about $1.2 billion before leaving office.

According to a report in October from the non-partisan Legislative Analyst, the Office of Public School Construction had received requests from schools for $3.8 billion in building projects. O’Donnell’s office cites a $100 billion figure representing the overall need for school facility money over the next decade.

Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, R-San Luis Obispo, and a co-author of AB 48, said providing modern, safe classrooms is necessary to support many of the other investments the Legislature has already made in the school system.

“While we have been successful in securing permanent funding to start new Career Technical Education programs, our schools still need dedicated funding to build state-of-the-art technical facilities,” he said in a statement. “Our students deserve and need the funding in this bill to get them ready for a 21st Century economy.”