In a move that should benefit severely overcrowded and rapidly growing school districts, the State Allocation Board has adopted new rules that will more fairly distribute coveted school construction dollars on the basis of need.
The old first-come, first-served policy was based on the speed with which a school district could acquire land and file a completed application. That policy punished crammed, expanding districts like Los Angeles Unified, Long Beach, Anaheim and Santa Ana. Though those districts could demonstrate the greatest need for new schools, they often lost the competition for state funds because they could not quickly find and buy land for new schools.
Although students in the most overcrowded districts have had to endure double shifts, staggered schedules, portable classrooms and classes in converted closets, state funds were awarded disproportionately to districts that had more room. A Times analysis published in October documented that more than $6.8 billion in school construction funds had been distributed erratically over the last decade based on how quickly districts could build new schools. Districts that had grown very slowly or lost growth collected most of the funds because they got there first with long-term projections of growth. Not a single dollar was awarded to more than 100 of California's fastest-growing suburban and urban districts, like the Santa Clarita Valley's Sulphur Springs Elementary and Los Angeles County's Downey Unified.
A lawsuit filed on behalf of year-round students, and joined by the LAUSD, prompted the state board to change the policy. Under the new rules, the LAUSD can expect to win as much as $750 million in state funds, which will be matched from local bond proceeds. All told, the additional money will allow the district to build about 100 schools in an effort to outpace soaring enrollment and reduce reliance on year-round calendars and busing.
School construction dollars are taxpayer dollars. Considering immediate needs ahead of long-term projections makes sense and ultimately uses tax money more wisely.