President Biden’s infrastructure proposal is a $100 billion plan to build the next generation of school – which is great for Arizona public schools facing growing enrollment in the next five years.
New money will provide jobs and assist our tribes on the Navajo Nation, and it is important for Arizona since the state’s school infrastructure program is underfinanced and facing two immediate challenges; increased enrollment and deteriorating schools.
Here are key facts about Arizona’s public-school facilities. From FY2014 to FY2018, enrollment increased nearly 40,000 students. While there has been a slight decline in enrollment this year due to COVID-19, the National Center for Education Statistics projects that enrollment will continue to rise from 1,168,000 in 2020 to 1,258,000 students in 2026.
On average school districts in Arizona spent $729 million per year on construction capital outlay for fiscal years 2009 to 2018. To pay for this, local districts took on long term debt, and at the end of fiscal year 2018 had $5.6 billion in long term debt, about $4,900 per student.
If Arizona school districts and the State were to maintain their public school facilities at the industry-recommended levels, Arizona needs $1.9 billion per year for capital outlay, rather than $729 million.
One consequence of under investment is that Arizona school districts are spending 12 percent of their total operating funds each year on maintenance and operations of facilities, one of the highest in the nation.
With $100 billion in grants, consistent with S. 96, the Rebuild America’s School Act, Arizona would receive $206,850,000 annually over 10 years, which could be leveraged with state and local funding to reduce the annual $1.2 billion gap in facilities funding.
If funded, this program will provide formula funds to states to target to the highest need and lowest wealth districts. Given the increase in school enrollment and the needs of rural communities and tribes, Arizona’s congressman and senators should pitch hard to include this school funding in any final infrastructure package passed by the Congress.
Bridges, ports, roads, broadband, and water works are in infrastructure packages and like schools are essential public infrastructure and raising sufficient capital from local and state sources to replace aged and crumbling infrastructure is difficult. Public school children in Arizona need our support.
Public school buildings are “essential” and short-changing schools is just unfair and is leading to gross disparities between the wealthy and poorer school districts. This legislation is a key part of economic recovery. According to the Economic Policy Institute each $1 billion spent on construction creates 17,785 jobs.
The schools we build now will still be in use in 2075, if not longer, so this is a smart way to build back better.
Our public schools are our nation’s core civic institutions and are often the anchor at the very heart of our nation’s communities.
Encourage Arizona’s two Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly to stand up for Arizona’s school children and support President Biden’s infrastructure package. Now is the time to build a new generation of resilient community-based schools for the children of Arizona.
Paul Bakalis, AIA, ALEP, NCARB, CSBA , is vice president of the Arizona Chapter of the Association of Learning Environments, former Arizona School Facilities Board director and President Emeritus of the National Council for School Facilities. ′