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—Patricia Bates, Laguna Niguel, 36th District State Senator
In November 2016, California’s voters approved Proposition 51, a $7 billion bond measure to fund school construction. But so far, only $600 million in school bonds have been sold, and Governor Jerry Brown’s budget for this year proposes only slightly higher bond sales, even though the Coalition for Adequate School Housing has identified $3 billion in shovel-ready classroom construction projects.
New school facilities and classroom repairs are desperately needed all over the state, and South Orange County is no exception. Putting Prop. 51 funds to work now would fund nearly $74 million of school construction projects in the Senate district I represent, benefiting students attending Capistrano Unified and Saddleback Valley Unified schools.
Besides repairing and replacing dilapidated school facilities, Prop. 51 funds can also be spent for new projects to improve education, including building laboratories and specialized facilities for Career Technical Education facilities. These facilities are critically needed to improve our state’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs, giving our kids a chance to compete in the global marketplace.
Despite this backlog of need, the governor’s January budget proposal only funds school construction projects which were submitted before 2014. This means that every project submitted since 2014 will not even be considered until fall 2019. That is a five-year delay.
Now is the time to get moving. Interest rates are still low (though starting to creep upward), meaning the sooner money is dedicated to school construction projects, the more money will be available in future years for education spending. Let us not forget that school construction projects also create solid paying jobs right where the work is being done.
If California’s state government can raise taxes and spend billions on distant horizon projects like high-speed rail, we can certainly invest in projects that will benefit local communities for a long time.
California’s students and their parents deserve better. As the governor and the Legislature work to enact a 2018-19 budget by June 15, I will fight to make sure that promises made are promises kept.