NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Schools on a Six-Year Plan

January 16, 2004

California needs more classrooms to serve a growing student population. But despite abundant resources, know-how, and a skilled workforce, the state finds it difficult to build schools. They take six years or longer to complete, a delay that leaves students without the facilities they need, according to a new study by Pacific Research Institute.

The lengthy time span adds to the already considerable expense of schools, which cost from one-third to one-half more than private sector buildings. California is also home to the most expensive high school in history, costing more than $200 million, but which has yet to serve a single student.

The reasons for the lethargy and expense lie in the state's complicated approval process for building schools, says author K. Lloyd Billingsley:

  • The Field Act, which has governed school construction since the 1930s, accounts for two to 75 percent of the cost for a given project.
  • As currently applied the Act subjects school projects to five major state agencies.
  • In addition, seven other state agencies operate 40 programs that may become involved in school construction.
  • Exempt districts from the Field Act, the 1930s legislation that governs school construction and reform prevailing-wage laws, which add to expense.
  • Provide grants to school districts that will empower them to plan, finance and build their own schools.
  • Allow students in crowded facilities to attend any school in the state and promote charter schools and expand parental choice in education.

"It is not acceptable that the leading high-tech state finds it difficult to build schools," says Billingsley. "Reform is necessary to provide the students of California with the facilities they need, while respecting taxpayers and maintaining accountability."

Source: K. Lloyd Billingsley, "No Place to Learn: California's School Facilities Crisis," Pacific Research Institute, January 13, 2004.


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