Bill would add new money to school construction grants

Districts with new schools in the works will find construction a bit more affordable if a bill approved by the state Senate Wednesday and expected to pass in the Assembly later this week, is also signed into law by the governor by the end of the month.

Assembly Bill 100 aims to help districts keep up with the rising cost of construction by increasing grants for new facilities by 5 percent in January 2009 and by another 4 percent the following year.

The bill would also allow districts to receive retroactive funding for special education facilities equal to 6 percent of the original grant.

Were concerned about the state funding for school facilities because it appears not to be keeping pace with the cost of construction, said Brian Rivas, a senior legislative advocate with the California School Boards Association.

The state is not meeting the 50 percent theyre supposed to meet under the program, he said, noting that the School Facilities Program mandates that state bonds provide half the cost for the construction of new schools. The program, established by the Legislature in 1998, intends that the other half of school construction costs come from district resources.

AB 100, authored by Assemblyman Gene Mullin, D-South San Francisco and education chair, was negotiated between the Assembly Speakers office and the administration to address this funding gap, according to committee consultant Sophia Kwong Kim.

Some districts, she noted, have complained that state grants make up as little as 30 percent of the cost of constructing a new school facility.

To determine the amount of state funding a district is eligible to receive for new construction, the number of unhoused students at each grade level is multiplied by the grant level established by the State Allocation Board. The number of unhoused students in a district is equal to the number of new seats for students a district needs to relieve overcrowding at its existing schools.

Current grant levels are $8,839 for elementary school students, $9,348 for middle school students and $11,893 for high school students.If AB 100 is enacted, these rates would increase on January 1, 2009, to $9,281; $9,815; and $12,488, respectively.

We appreciate this increase, Rivas said, because it will continue to narrow the gap between the cost of new schools and what the state is already providing for school construction.

Amendments made to the bill in the Senate would also allow districts that received grants for special education facilities in 2008 to apply for supplemental grants equal to six percent of their original grant awards.This provision aims to compensate for the fact that special education facilities were not included in a new construction grant increase approved earlier this year by the State Allocation Board.

Despite the administrations agreement with the original provisions of AB 100, it is unclear whether the governor will sign it, given the additional costs added by the Senate amendments, Kwong Kim said.

The bill addresses funding for the construction of new schools only and would not affect the current grant levels for school modernization efforts.

The bill has no formal opposition and is supported by more than half a dozen education groups, including the California School Boards Association, the California Association of School Business Officials, the Coalition for Adequate School Housing, and others.

Carrie Marovich, is a former legislative staffer, who is now a freelance writer living in Roseville