School facilities in California, as in most states, are financed by a combination of local and state funds. The rules for raising those funds changed dramatically in 1978, when California voters passed Proposition 13. This measure raised the threshold for passage of school facility bonds from a simple majority to 2/3, which dramatically decreased school facility investment during a period of rapid population growth. Schools filled to overflowing, and “portables” filled the former playground areas in many schools. Class size reduction policies increased the pressure. Some communities (especially wealthier ones) mustered the votes to pass school construction bonds, but others failed to do so.
In some such overcrowded areas, schools created overlapping calendars in order to use facilities more evenly throughout the year. In some instances the instructional school year was shortened in order to implement such a system, which may be a contributing factor to low academic achievement in these schools. (With some irony, these abbreviated school calendars were dubbed “year-round schools.”)
In 2000, voters approved Proposition 39, which lowered the requirement to pass a school facility bond to 55%. The combination of this measure and a pair of statewide general obligation bonds for school construction led to a boom in school construction and repair.
School renovation has been uneven, however, and deplorable conditions in some schools led to the Williams case (filed in 2000, settled in 2005), which argued that California has a responsibility to provide every child a school where he or she has a reasonable opportunity to learn. The plaintiffs in this case championed measurement of distractions (such as vermin or broken toilets) and disadvantages (such as missing textbooks and inexperienced teachers) in order to increase the odds that children in every school can apply their energies to learning. The expression “opportunity to learn” became shorthand for the connection between facilities and learning.
California’s public dialogue about facilities has included plenty of local variation, but taken as a whole the main themes have been basic needs: spaces for children to learn, earthquake-resistant structures, In is unusual for schools in California to grapple with more “optional” facilities-related concerns such as libraries, computer infrastructure, science labs, performance spaces and the like. Readers, if you have good research on this subject, please post a comment.
If you walk into a school, the buildings might not be the first thing you notice: it might be the kids. What are they wearing? The next post explores the evidence about uniforms as an element of a school environment.