Smaller LEAs face planning deadline for Prop. 39 energy grants

California school districts with an average daily attendance of 1,000 or less have until Aug. 1 to notify the state whether they want to collect two years' worth of energy efficiency money this year.

Under legislation implementing voter-approved Proposition 39 - which closed a corporate tax loophole and directs half of the $1 billion in new annual revenues to K-12 schools for energy efficient facilities upgrades - smaller LEAs may receive both their current and subsequent year's funding this budget year.

Districts with ADA of 1,001 or higher will receive larger grant amounts and therefore may not bundle years one and two funding. They may, however, roll over their allocation year to year in order to pay for larger projects.

According to the California Department of Education, all of the eligible LEAs were to receive an email notification informing them that a web-based application to elect to receive two years' worth of funding is available at www.cde.ca.gov/fg/fo/r14/prop39cceja13rfal.asp

Instructions for obtaining a password to log on to the site were to be included in the email as well, a CDE notice posted online late last week said. The deadline is Aug. 1.

All California school districts are eligible for energy-efficiency grants based on district size and average daily student attendance numbers, under terms of the budget deal reached last month in Sacramento. Schools with ADA of 100 or less would receive the minimum grant amount of $15,000. For schools between 100-1,000 ADA, the minimum grant would be $50,000, and for schools between 1,000-2,000 ADA, the minimum grant is $100,000.

This means districts will receive an average of $55 per student and about $8 for every meal-plan eligible student based on the $380 million in Prop. 39 funds going to K-12 education in this year's budget, according to a legislative spokesperson. Community Colleges will receive $48 million this year.

Districts will be responsible for submitting applications for their energy-saving projects based on criteria established by the California Energy Commission and to have those applications approved before receiving funds. The applications will be required to include the district's plan as well as be able to verify that the project reduces energy consumption and saves costs.

However, those criteria and other guidelines are still being established, according to CDE, which noted on its new Prop. 39 web page that it has not yet completed entitlement calculations for this year.

The calculation will not be possible to complete until such time as the CDE knows the number of LEAs with ADA of 1,000 or less that choose to receive both their current and subsequent year entitlements as allowed," the notice reads. "Once the eligible LEAs make their elections, entitlements will be proportionately calculated for the remaining LEAs."

The CEC, in consultation with the Department of Education, the Community College Chancellors Office and the Public Utilities Commission, is responsible for developing guidelines for contracts, including estimates for energy benefits, cost assumptions for energy savings, benchmarks, energy surveys and audits, and cost-effectiveness determination.

The proposal allocates $28 million to the CEC's State Energy Conservation Account for no- and low-interest loans for eligible projects, and technical assistance.

It also provides $5 million to the California Conservation Corps and $3 million for competitive grants to community based-organizations - all for workforce training and development.

The funding comes at a critical time for the K-12 system's facilities infrastructure. Schools are coming off several years of severe budget cuts, and the state's school construction program - which matches district contributions for modernizing or building new facilities - is virtually out of money.

With about 70 percent of school facilities in California more than 25 years old, there are hundreds of thousands of K-12 students in classrooms in need of modernization, according to a recent report by the San Francisco-based Center for the Next Generation. It estimates that statewide, schools spend about $700 million on energy each year.

More and more research points out that improved air quality and lighting has a positive effect on student health, which generates more learning time and, in turn, better student performance.

Spending the money on schools, supporters say, will help modernize the state's aging school facilities and save districts millions by reducing utility costs while also promoting academic growth and environmental goals.