Amid frequent reports of inadequate school facilities, one funding issue is
receiving increased attention: Unlike the financing of public schools'
day-to-day operations, which is provided in large measure by the states, the
burden of school construction and renovation sometimes falls on local
Idaho, Nevada, and Minnesota—among other states—have relied almost entirely
on districts to pay for all school repairs and construction. But local
budgets have had a hard time keeping up with the demand for new schools and
the repair of aging ones And even in states that do provide some funding,
many districts have become overburdened by the baby "boomlet," an increase
in school-aged children that has created a demand for more schools.
Some states have a long history of helping their districts with facilities.
Massachusetts, for example, has an assistance program that has been in place
since 1948. The state reimburses districts for 50 percent to 90 percent of
the cost of school construction. And Washington has helped pay for school
buildings through the sale of timber on state lands since it first achieved
statehood in 1889. But the inconsistency in the states' responsibility
for school construction has led to what some experts are calling a national
school facilities crisis. In 1995, the U.S. General Accounting Office
issued a report stating that it would cost $112 billion to bring existing
schools throughout the country into good overall condition. In 2000, the
National Education Association nearly tripled that figure when it placed a
$32 billion price tag on the cost of needed school repairs, construction,
and technology. Of the $322 billion, the union estimated that $268.2
billion was needed for construction and repairs alone.
However, there is evidence from the past several years that points to an
expanding state role in school facilities funding. From 1994 to 1998, for
example, the number of bills passed by state legislatures related to
capital-outlay funding more than tripled, from 18 to 60, according to a
December 2000 report in School Business Affair magazine. And from 1993 to
1999, nine states—Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Ohio, Utah,
Virginia and Wyoming—made significant changes to their school-construction
financing systems that moved them toward more equalized funding, the journal
However it gets paid for, there appears to be much work to be done. The
National Center for Education Statistics released a report in June 2000
based on the results of a survey on school facilities. The survey revealed
that one in four schools reported having at least one building in "less than
adequate" condition. A much greater proportion, 76 percent, reported that
they would have to spend some money on repairs, renovations, or
modernization to bring their schools up to par.