State governments are intimately involved in paying for the operation of public school districts. On average, they account for about half of a local district's operating funds. But historically, most states have had a hands-off approach when it came to providing money to build and renovate school facilities.
But in recent years, states are getting more involved with school facilities — and that includes opening their purse strings. Many states have begun to channel money to districts to help them repair and replace school buildings that have aged and fallen into disrepair.
The change in attitude about capital funding was never more clear than one day this summer in Ohio, where state support for school construction funding was insignificant until about five years ago. On July 23, 2002, the state's School Facilities Commission committed more than $2.8 billion in state funds to school construction when it signed off on a massive building program encompassing Ohio's six largest school systems.
The districts — Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo, Akron and Dayton — must come up with the other half of the $5.7 billion needed for the projects. The result will be 276 new schools and 186 renovated facilities.
Ohio is one of many states in which local districts are benefiting from their state's decision to take greater responsibility for capital improvements. The continued aging of school facilities, the inability of many local districts to generate enough funds for needed upgrades, and legal rulings that have directed states to assume a greater role in paying for facilities have resulted in building improvements that would have been far beyond the means of local districts a few years ago.
“Without this funding, it would be business as usual trying to keep up some very old buildings,” says Jim Beal, staff architect with the Akron district.