NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Restrictive School-Construction Rules Lead to Unintended Consequences

April 3, 2002

Politicians in some states have gone overboard in adopting rules and regulations concerning how schools should be built, critics complain. The result is that needed new classrooms are too expensive to build, and overcrowding follows -- or local students are bused to schools so distant from their homes that it takes them an hour or more in travel time, and parental involvement often suffers.

California is a case in point. Since it is earthquake prone, schools are subjected to tough structural requirements. While everyone wants schools to be safe, eliminating any possibility of earthquake injury poses other risks and costs.

  • When enlarging existing schools is out of the question due to costs added because of the construction requirements, the Los Angeles School District resorts to busing -- affecting 52,000 of the district's 737,000 students, for a total of 40 million miles of transport a year.
  • Given Los Angeles' notorious traffic, the risk of a fatal or serious student accident may be as great as from an earthquake.
  • A requirement that Los Angeles not build schools of lesser quality in the central city than in the suburbs means that new schools on expensive urban land must have full playgrounds -- further discouraging existing schools from enlarging to serve the local student population because of the expenses involved.
  • Charter schools in California are not subject to the restrictions.

Regulations add to school construction costs in other states as well.

New York City's Board of Education, for example, insists that all electrical wiring in new schools be encased in metal conduits -- a requirement far beyond what state and municipal building codes demand.

Source: Richard Rothstein, "Getting Far Too Much of a Good Thing," New York Times, April 3, 2002.


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