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Senate Select Committee on School Facilities


Good morning Chairman Lowenthal and members of the Committee and thank you for your leadership in the important policy arena of California school facilities infrastructure investment. I am here today representing the California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell and as a long-time practitioner in the field of school facilities. As California Faces unprecedented budget crisis, it is even more important to review our school facility infrastructure investment and policies, and continue to plan for the building and modernization of California public schools that are learner centered, cost effective, safe, sustainable, and centers our communities.


In his 2009 State of Education address, Superintendent O'Connell indicated, "Economics tells us the best way to deal with a downturn is to invest and plan for the inevitable uptick. So right now, let's envision and plan for schools that are not only friendly to our environment and our communities but that are truly designed for the 21st century learning needs of our students. Let's plan for schools that are build based on educational needs, not on funding constraints. This economy will recover, and school construction will help to revive it."

In 2008, the Superintendent launched the initiative to close the achievement gap that exists between students who are white and students of color, as well as with English learners, students in poverty, and students with disabilities and challenged all of us at the Department of Education to focus our resources towards this initiative as well as the Healthy Children Ready to Learn initiative. Both initiatives have an impact on school facilities planning and construction.

Re-Visioning School Facilities Planning and Design for the 21st Century

In October 2008, the Superintendent convened a diverse group of researchers, education administrators, state policy leaders, design professionals, teachers, and students for the Re-Visioning School Facilities Planning and Design for the 21st Century Roundtable (herein referred to as Roundtable).

The Roundtable, facilitated by the University of California, Berkeley, Center for Cities and Schools, explored the historical, contemporary, and visionary future contexts of school facilities in California to advise the state on policy change. Central to these proceeds is the fact that we are at a crossroads in school facilities -- we know the focus must shift away from the industrial models of our past and position our facilities to be beacons of the information age where learning is personal, project-based, interdisciplinary, relevant, and connected to the local and global community. A copy of the proceedings report will be forwarded to all committee members.

However, before I talk about the Roundtable outcomes, it is important to review the May 23, 2007, report the California Department of Education (CDE) produced to assist the State Allocation Board (SAB) in determining the adequacy of funding grants. Through this historical lens we can understand how our current funding model has determined the design of school facilities.

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CDE Report on Complete Schools Presented to the SAB May 23, 2008 Highlights

The first state construction assistance program was created in 1949. In creating the program, the Legislature adopted the low end of a range of square footage per student recommendation made by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Roy E. Simpson in 1947. These square footage standards, with minor increases, formed the basis of the 1976 Lease Purchase Program (LPP), and, in turn, the per student grants provided in the School Facilities Program (SFP) that was established in 1998.

The SFP funding model is based on a per student square footage allowance that is significantly less than the amount of square feet being provided per student in school construction projects nation-wide and regionally (see chart below).

Projects Elementary (median square feet per student) Middle School (median square feet per student High School (median square feet per student
60 Projects 71 88 108
California SFP Funding Model 73 80 95
Western Region (2006) 88 106 120
National (2006) 122 144 167

Additionally, the national median amount of space per student has increased over the past 20 years, while the per-student square footage on which the SFP funding model is based has remained static at the middle and high school levels. The elementary square footage increase is the result of the K-3 class size reduction program.

Districts have built schools with basically the same funding model for the past 60 years, and it is the changing educational program that has had to adapt to the static funding model. During the nine years in which the SFP has been in place, numerous educational programs have been adopted by the Legislature, but the SFP funding model has not been changed to reflect any needed facilities.

Recommendations of the Re-Visioning Roundtable

The recommendations of the CDE Roundtable on Re-Visioning School Facility Planning and Design for the 21st Century: Creating Optimal Learning Environments are five-fold:

Recommendation 1

Establish a state vision and guiding principles on the role of school facilities in supporting student achievement and closing the achievement gap.

Recommendation 2

Incorporate the new vision and principles into regulations.

Recommendation 3

Increase collaboration among state agencies to aid the Local Educational Agencies in the design of 21st century learning environments.

Recommendation 4

Increase state focus on standard and policy governing the modernization of existing schools to provide 21st century learning environments to the greatest number of students.

Recommendation 5

Review and restructure the linkage between school facility finance and design.

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Roundtable Common Principles of High Quality School Design

As we determine the vision for future infrastructure investment in California public schools, the common principles of high quality school design adopted by the Roundtable and based on the American Architecture Foundation's Great Schools by Design Initiative can be instructive:

  1. Design for educational program
  2. Design for adaptability
  3. Integrate technology
  4. Promote health and sustainability
  5. Enhance safety and security
  6. Connect to the community
  7. Support small school culture
  8. Accommodate student diversity
  9. Support the teacher as professional
State Policy Consideration to Support High Quality Public School Facilities

We suggest that the committee consider the following five policy areas to support high quality public school facilities:

Governance and Oversight

Policy Objective: Simplify California's complex and overlapping governance and oversight responsibilities for school facilities.

Example: Proposition 39 oversight committee audits and state audits for bond accountability are redundant.

Community Planning

Policy Objective: Encourage comprehensive, smart growth planning at the local and regional level that includes schools as centers of community.

Example: Current law precludes cities/counties from denying development based upon school impacts or requiring fees/extractions in excess of the statutory maximum (level 1 fee) and there are limited mandates or incentives to encourage cooperative comprehensive land use planning with school districts.

Community Partnerships

Policy Objective: Create incentives and eliminate barriers for school districts to intensify the use of public school buildings and grounds in support of broad school and community needs.

Examples: Joint use, joint occupancy, mixed use.

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Facilities and Funding

Policy Objective; The educational program drives the funding model and encourages innovative, high quality, and cost efficient schools.

Consider whether square footage funding model is better aligned with educational program funding than per pupil grants.

Example: Career Technical Educational Facilities funding program where quality of the educational program determined eligibility rather than a classroom count based formula.

High Performance Schools

Policy Objective: All new and modernized California schools meet Collaborative for High Performance schools (CHPS) or like standards.

Example: State currently provides incentives for high performance standards but does not mandate and pay for such standards.

Educational Modernization

Policy Objective: To modernize California schools for educational program requirements together with systems' upgrades.

Example: Current 20 year model for modernization of building systems misses educational program changes, needs, and opportunities.

State Vision for the California School Facilities Infrastructure Investment

In closing, the California Department of Education offers a vision statement for the committee's consideration:

The State of California in partnership with local educational agencies and communities will build, modernize, and maintain high quality public school facilities that are learner centered, safe, sustainable, and centers of community.

Questions:   Shannon Farrell-Hart | | 916-323-3923
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