Charters, career tech would get boost from school bond

Charters, career tech would get boost from school bond

(Calif.) Hundreds of millions of dollars would be reserved for building or remodeling charter schools and career-technical education facilities under terms of a school construction bond measure set to go before voters next year.

The initiative would also create a new school facilities account and authorize the state to issue and sell $9 billion worth of bonds to finance both K-12 and community college construction projects.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced Friday that the measure’s backers – a coalition of school facilities advocates and construction trade groups – had turned in enough valid voter signatures to qualify it for the November 2016 General Election ballot.

“The statewide school bond will continue the successful partnership between local and state government to build new and modernize existing schools – while also maintaining local control of school construction dollars,” said Jenny Hannah, chief facilities officer for the Kern County Superintendent of Schools, said in a statement.

Hannah also serves as chair of the Coalition for Adequate School Housing which, with the California Building Industry Association, financed the effort to get the measure on the 2016 ballot after several state legislative attempts were squelched by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The fiscally-prudent governor has for several years pushed for less of a state role in financing school construction but, in the absence of a better funding mechanism, bond advocates outside the Legislature have kept up the fight to salvage the School Facilities Program.

Voters have approved more than $35 billion in construction bonds for K-14 schools since 1998 – the most recent for $10.4 billion in 2006. Nearly all of these funds have been doled out but the state agency in charge of the program continues to maintain a huge back-log of school projects seeking state assistance. A 2014 report from school facilities experts at UC Berkeley estimated a statewide need for nearly $17 billion in new school construction and repairs.

The so-called “Kindergarten Through Community College Public Education Facilities Bond Act of 2016” would provide K-12 school’s $6 billion – half for new construction; half for modernization projects. Another $2 billion would go to pay for community college facilities while the remaining $1 billion would be halved between charter schools and a fund for career-technical education facilities.

The initiative calls for the creation of a new account – the 2016 State School Facilities Fund – from which the board responsible for overseeing the state’s school construction program may allocate matching grants to districts. The measure also specifies projects that qualify as “modernization” to include roof replacements, purchase and installation of air conditioning and insulation, school security and playground safety, and removal of hazardous materials such as asbestos.

“Studies show that 13,000 jobs are created for each $1 billion of state infrastructure investment,” reads the text of the measure. “Investments made through [this act] will [also] provide for career technical education facilities to provide job training for many Californians and veterans who face challenges in completing their education and re-entering the workforce.”

While state voters tend to overwhelming approve bond packages to finance school construction, this latest measure could come up against another school-revenue initiative in 2016.

Last week, a coalition of education and other groups, including the California Teachers Association, announced its intent to qualify a measure for the same ballot that would extend temporary tax increases set to expire in 2018. That revenue source, created by the voter-approved Proposition 30 in 2012, allowed Brown to stabilize the state’s budget and provide billions in additional funding to public schools.

Brown, who championed Prop. 30 as being temporary, has said he would not support extending its provisions, which include increased personal income tax on the state’s wealthiest earners. more