Neglected military public schools face funding dilemma

Neglected military public schools face funding dilemma

(Calif.) A handful of California’s military base public schools – among the most run-down in the nation – could lose access to some $240 million in federal construction money if they can’t come up with 20-percent in matching funds this year.

A Republican bill that would appropriate the amount needed – $61 million – was recently amended to instead require the Department of Finance to explore options, including availability of low-interest loans, to help these schools qualify for the Department of Defense funding.

“We have an opportunity to enhance the education experience of tens of thousands of California students including a large number of our military’s sons and daughters,” Bakersfield Sen. Jean Fuller said in a statement regarding her SB 111.

“If these federal funds are not secured soon, the cost to the state of California to fix these schools will increase by nearly $200 million,” Fuller noted.  “It makes no sense to leave money on the table when the need is so great.”

Three years ago, state lawmakers were shocked to learn that seven of the nation’s 25 most dilapidated public schools serving military families are located in California but efforts to secure a budget allocation for a state match were unsuccessful.

In all, 11 California public schools serving military families made a 2011 Department of Defense list categorizing the condition of the school facilities and prioritizing each on based on need. The review preceded the launch of the DOD’s Public Schools on Military Installations Program, for which Congress has authorized $945 million to be used for the renovation, repair or reconstruction of facilities.

The last increase in funding for the PSMI program – $175 million – was provided earlier this year in House Resolution 83 (Section 8017) but was also accompanied by language that requires a 20 percent match as a condition of receiving funds. H.R. 83 also stipulates that the non-federal match is the responsibility of the local education authority and the state.

An analysis of the new federal funding law by California legislative staff suggests that the Department of Defense has “interpreted the new language to mean that the matching share must be provided by the LEA and/or the State in which the school is located.”

There is also an expectation that the Defense Department can skip eligible school projects on the priority list if the match is not provided and once skipped – that project will no longer be considered for funding, the analysis concluded.

Absent a funding allocation, Fuller’s bill requires only that the Department of Finance explore possible avenues for how the state can help school districts meet their matching share requirement under the federal program.

Included among those options must be the availability of low-interest loans for school districts through the state-run Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank, created in 1994 to finance public infrastructure and private development “that promote a healthy climate for jobs, contribute to a strong economy and improve the quality of life in California communities.”

IBank has broad authority to issue tax-exempt and taxable revenue bonds, provide financing to public agencies, provide credit enhancements, acquire or lease facilities, and leverage state and federal funds, according to its website.

The state has for decades contributed to school construction projects through its School Facility Program, which is funded by voter-approved facilities bonds. But the last bond was passed in 2006 and very little remains even as districts continue to bring school construction projects forward.

While districts in more affluent neighborhoods often have no trouble passing local bond measures, the majority of the schools serving military families are unable to do so because they are located in areas with low assessed property valuations, according to the author’s office.

The California public schools on the DOD’s list include:

  • Murray Middle School, Sierra Sands School District, Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake
  • Forbes/Branch Elementary School, Muroc Joint Unified School District Edwards Air Force Base
  • Burroughs High School, Sierra Sands School District, Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake
  • Mary Faye Pendleton Elementary School, Fallbrook Union School District, USMC Camp Pendleton     
  • San Onofre Elementary School, Fallbrook Union School District, USMC Camp Pendleton
  • Miller Elementary School, San Diego Unified School District, Naval Base San Diego
  • Scandia Elementary School, Travis Unified School District, Travis Air Force Base
  • Akers Elementary School, Central Union School District, Naval Air Station Lemoore
  • Hancock Elementary School, San Diego Unified School District, Naval Base San Diego
  • Desert Junior-Senior High School (two schools), Muroc Joint Unified School District Edwards AFB          

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