The nation’s school districts spend about $46 billion less per year on facility upkeep than is needed to maintain “healthy and safe” learning environments, according to a 2016 report from the 21st Century School Fund. Although most states help pay for some construction costs, almost half pay less than 10 percent. That means that, for the most part, districts in those states are at the mercy of voters to finance capital projects, such as building new schools and making major renovations to existing ones. Affluent communities with a strong tax base are able to borrow money and pass bond measures, while low-wealth districts — particularly in rural areas — struggle to do so.
In this opinion piece, Tom Vander Ark outlines problems with the way we build, manage and maintain public school buildings. Most communities have a mixture of old and new problems–a need for modern flexible spaces and a mismatch between taxing authority and need. That’s why it is time to separate school operations from facilities provisioning. Vander Ark provides a proposal to change how facilities are provided for public education programming, which includes moving facilities into a public trust, providing state fixed asset funding, and using performance contracts for operators.
Across Colorado, an increasingly affluent state which boasts powerful job growth and one of the highest percentages of college graduates in the country, public K-12 systems are in deep trouble. Collectively, officials say, Colorado’s 178 school districts have more than $14 billion in infrastructure needs. Spending per student is well below the national average of approximately $12,500 — even below Mississippi, Louisiana and New Mexico, which in 2017 posted the nation’s highest poverty rates. Budget shortfalls have stalled teacher pay and forced more than half of all districts to put one or more schools on a four-day week, the largest proportion in the country. Some of the pressures can be traced to the Great Recession, when Colorado, like many states, slashed K-12 funding. The effects lingered. Over the past several years, however, Colorado’s economy has rebounded and boomed. Tax-adverse voters have not responded. They have repeatedly rejected attempts to raise levies to prop up underfunded school districts, including $1.6 billion statewide initiative in 2018 that would have helped districts cover escalating operating expenses.
House Democrats unveil $100B school facility upgrade bill, urge inclusion in long-sought bipartisan infrastructure deal
Congressional Democrats introduced a bill to spend $100 billion on improving school infrastructure. Spending on improvements to schools, congressional Democrats said, should be part of any large-scale infrastructure bill, like the one President Donald Trump has proposed. “Every day across districts in America, students and educators attend schools that are either unsafe or lack basic resources, or both, and this is simply unacceptable,” Rep. Bobby Scott, the Democratic chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, said at a press conference in Washington. The bill, dubbed the Rebuild America’s Schools Act, would put $70 billion in grants and $30 billion in bonds toward improving schools, with a priority given to the schools in worst condition and those serving high numbers of low-income students. Funds could also be used for technology upgrades.
From union ballots to election ballots: A look back at the top 10 credit stories affecting U.S. charter schools in 2018
It’s been an eventful year for the U.S. charter school sector. Some schools edge closer to possible defaults, some have dealt with striking workers, and many lost some allies at multiple levels of government following the midterm elections. At the same time, options for charter school financings beyond rated debt have expanded substantially. S&P Global Ratings analysts recently discussed what they thought were the most impactful events in the sector that have had or could have credit quality implications. Here are their picks for the top 10 credit stories for charter schools in 2018.
Declining enrollment has contributed to a growing inventory of vacant and half-empty school buildings in cities across the U.S. Private and charter schools often want to purchase or lease space in these facilities. But school districts and union-backed politicians frequently balk. The Milwaukee Public Schools currently have at least 11 vacant school buildings and 41 schools operating below 70% capacity. St. Marcus Lutheran…which ranks in the top 1% statewide among schools with a majority of low-income and minority students, offered $1 million in 2013 to buy Malcolm X Academy, a large public-school campus that had been closed since 2008. The Milwaukee Board of School Directors said no and instead chose to sell the site to…a newly formed corporation registered to a pair of construction-business operators. That deal fell through, and in 2016 the school district opted instead to spend $10 million relocating the struggling middle school and its roughly 400 students to the Malcolm X campus.
After salaries, energy is the district’s second biggest line item in the budget. In 2008, the school district began identifying energy efficiency opportunities across its existing campuses as well as building those economies into new construction. Since prioritizing conservation, the district has averaged a 45 percent reduction in energy costs across the board, or about $6 million, a year.
For higher education, one of the major concerns is how the tax bill and other federal policies will impact state funding models and charitable giving. At the conference, policy experts discussed a number of state priorities which may impact both public and private institutions moving forward.
The junk-rated Chicago Board of Education completed an up-sized bond sale on Thursday with a pricing that indicated an easing in the municipal market penalty the district has been forced to pay due to its deep financial problems.
The awards are the first since the Legislature agreed last year to set aside $100 million to help privately run charter schools borrow money at lower interest rates. The state is effectively guaranteeing that lenders will not miss payments.