K. Lloyd Billingsley - Contributor
[Courtesty of Pacific Research
Billingsley is Editorial Director for the Pacific
Research Institute and has been widely published on topics
including on popular culture, defense policy, education reform,
and many other current policy issues. [go to Billingsley index]
Control From Bond Debacle
Throwing good intentioned bond money after bad?
[K. Lloyd Billingsley] 3/12/04
of Proposition 55, the Facilities Bond Act of 2004, is bad
news for Californians. But there are ways
legislators can mitigate the damage.
Proposition 55 passed by a meager 50.6 percent, with fewer that
57,000 out of more than five million votes in favor. Though a
narrow margin, the result showed that voters are still willing
to dump money into an education system that is wasteful, expensive,
and mediocre at best. The voters' willingness, however, is declining.
Recall that in November of 2002, a $13-billion statewide bond
won by a wider margin of 58.9 percent.
State superintendent of education Jack O'Connell predictably
pronounced the victory of Prop 55 "an investment in the
future of our children." Things aren't quite so simple.
Proposition 55 authorizes $12.3 billion to fund school facilities
construction and repairs. The state's legislative analyst pegs
the cost to pay off the principal and interest at $24.7 billion,
which translates to payments of $823 million per year. That is
a lot of money for a state not exactly golden in fiscal terms.
Before it actually reaches the children, the $12.3 billion will
have to trickle down through multiple layers of bureaucratic
sediment. As PRI recently showed in No Place to Learn: California's
School Facilities Crisis, school construction is both expensive
and slow. New schools take six years or more to build, which
is longer than it took to build the Empire State Building, Golden
Gate Bridge, or the Channel Tunnel between England and France.
The lengthy process and high costs find their source in California's
complicated approval process. The Field Act, which has governed
school construction since the 1930s, accounts for between two
and 75 percent of a project's cost. The act currently subjects
school construction to five major state agencies. In addition,
seven other state agencies operate 40 programs that may become
involved. Prevailing wage laws, in effect a mandate for union
labor, also boost costs 10-25 percent.
Legislators should consider exemptions from the Field Act, something
the state's Little Hoover Commission has recommended. As many
as two million children attend school in non-Field-Act facilities.
In recent earthquakes, schools built under the Act and those
build under standard building codes fared about the same.
Legislators can also replace costly categorical programs with
grants to school districts and empower them to approve and build
their own facilities, without interference from five state agencies.
Developer-built schools, such as Coyote Creek in the San Ramon
Valley district, are a way for districts to save money. Districts
can also convert administrative facilities for classroom use.
The prevailing-waged provisions that drive up costs were originally
intended to block participation by African Americans in public-works
projects. Those provisions should be eliminated, along with expensive
proposals for universal pre-school and class-size reduction.
Charter schools are not subject to the Field Act and render
good results with less spending. These schools should be encouraged,
along with home schooling.
These measures will help students get the facilities they need.
Without them, it will be business as usual and much of the $12.3
billion from Proposition 55 will be wasted. CRO
2004 Pacific Research Institute