AB 48 promises new funding for small school districts; will this be how you finally achieve a matching grant for your facility needs?

A special review of pending legislation by Eric Hall, President and Founder of EH&A

Two California Assemblymen, in an unusual bipartisan effort, are feeling confident their bill to place a school facility bond measure on the 2020 and 2022 ballots will not only pass through the legislature, but will also be accepted by the voters. A recent survey of voters reveals a solid majority thinks K-12 schools have a “great” need for facility funding. Student safety, preparing students for jobs, and access to affordable college education resonate strongly with voters as reasons to vote in favor of such a measure.

Patrick O’Donnell and Jordan Cunningham have authored AB 48 – Kindergarten- Community Colleges Public Education Facilities Bond Acts of 2020 and 2022. This bill establishes state general obligation bond acts that would provide unspecified amounts of funds to construct and modernize education facilities, as specified. These respective bond acts would become operative only if approved by the voters at unspecified 2020 and 2022 statewide elections.

O’Donnell is a Democrat representing the 70th Assembly District, which encompasses the Los Angeles Harbor Region and portions of Long Beach. Cunningham represents the 35th district as a Republican. His district includes San Luis Obispo County and portions of Santa Barbara County.

The survey was conducted by FM3 Research, a California-based company that has been conducting public policy-oriented opinion research since 1981. Of those polled, 57% believe K-12 schools need facility funding. A decline for significant funding needs was noted for higher education, specifically for the University of California.

The bottom line shows a narrow majority of November 2020 general election voters would vote yes to approve a K-12/community college bond and slightly more than half of March 2020 primary election voters also favor the K-12/community college bond.

AB 48 follows the guidelines of the Leroy F. Greene School Facilities Act of 1998, which provided for the adoption of rules, regulations, and procedures for the allocation of state funds for the construction and modernization of public school facilities. The bill if approved would specifically authorize the allocation of state funds for the replacement of school buildings that are at least 75 years old, for specified assistance to small school districts, and for the testing and remediation of lead levels in water fountains and faucets used for drinking or preparing food on school sites.

Of great interest to CBOs everywhere, the bill would increase the maximum level of total bonding capacity that a school district could have in order to be deemed eligible for financial hardship under the act from $5,000,000 to $10,000,000. The bill authorizes the SAB to provide specified assistance to school districts and county offices of education impacted by a natural disaster for which the Governor has declared a state of emergency. The bill also adjusts requirements for the funding of joint-use projects to construct facilities on school sites serving kindergarten or any of grades 1 to 12, inclusive.

This bill institutes the Kindergarten-Community Colleges Public Education Facilities Bond Acts of 2020 and 2022 as state general obligation bond acts that would provide unspecified amounts of funds to construct and modernize education facilities, as specified. These respective bond acts become operative only if approved by the voters at the March 3, 2020, statewide primary election and the November 8, 2022, statewide general election, respectively. The bill would also provide for the submission of the bond acts to the voters at those elections.

School districts rely primarily on revenue raised through local G.O. bond elections. Locally imposed developer fees represent a smaller but important additional source of revenue for school districts. The state provides districts with financial support for new school construction and modernization projects through the School Facility Program (SFP). The program obtains its funding from voter-approved statewide general obligation revenue.

Passage of AB 48 and the subsequent bond acts is essential. It is clear to me that fair and equal funding of our school facilities for new construction and remodeling present challenges that are overwhelming. The passage of Proposition 51 in 2016 brought new funds to the state’s nearly depleted program, but those funds only provided resources for a short time.

These changes to assist small districts is long overdue. Even though EH&A is an expert in obtaining these funds for school districts, we still find it extremely difficult to find the funding resources in order for small districts to repair, modernize, and rebuild their aging facilities. Bridging the facility spending differences across districts equally remains a statewide problem. We are pleased to see the efforts in AB 48 as starting steps in bridging that gap.

For further information on the State School Facility Program and your specific financing or facility needs, please contact Eric Hall at eric@ehanda.com.