States Give School Construction Top Dollar Priority
By Tiffany Danitz, Staff Writer
WASHINGTON -- For the first time in Nevada's history, the state has earmarked money to help school districts rebuild or renovate schools that are unsafe. The $16 million grant was signed by Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn last Thursday, just two working days before the Census Bureau announced that national school construction expenditures topped $18 billion in 1996, the latest year for which the federal government has statistics.
"Every child in Nevada deserves the opportunity to go to school in a safe and productive environment, regardless of the size of their community, " Guinn said.
Texas, New York and Florida led the nation in school construction spending in 1996, according to Census Bureau data made public Monday.
Texas spent $2 billion and New York and Florida spent $1.6 billion each.
"Construction fluctuates from year to year, but this happened to go up significantly from the year before," Sharon Meade, a Census Bureau spokeswoman said.
Terry Whitney, school finance specialist for the Denver-based National Coalition of State Legislatures, told stateline.org that the amount spent on school construction will continue to grow as enrollment climbs and the Northeast, Southeast and West gain larger student populations.
"This is a huge problem because the inventory shows that in terms of actual school buildings out there, the majority were built in the 1940s and '50s. They are very, very old buildings with significant safety problems," Whitney said.
The burden of fitting schools with the latest technology contributes to the construction costs. Whitney estimates that it will take $200 billion to bring schools up to code and make buildings safe nationwide.
School construction is an issue for Washington as well as the states. President Clinton spoke of the need to address it in his last three State of the Union speeches, and at least 30 bills dealing with school construction have been introduced in the 105th Congress.
While economic times are good, the United States should be looking at fixing up these buildings, Whitney said. "It is a matter of choices and we as a nation have to decide to invest in our school buildings in the way that other nations do," he adds.
Other findings in the annual census survey of the financial data for K-12 public schools include:
New Jersey leads the nation in in per pupil expenditure - $9,208, and Utah spends the least - $3,682. The national average was $5,656. The District of Columbia had the second highest per pupil expenditure at $8,510, followed by New York $8,374, Alaska $8,169 and Connecticut $7,970.
Hawaii continues to contribute most to local education. It provides 90 percent of the money spent on schools in the state. New Mexico and Delaware both paid 73 percent of their state's schooling and Michigan and Washington followed close behind, each picking up 68 percent of tab.
In 1996, New Hampshire spent the least on education only seven percent. Vermont contributed 28.5 percent and South Dakota paid only 30 percent of the cost of schools.
There are 18 tables of data on school financing in the Census Bureau report, which can be found at http://www.census.gov/govs/school/96esedat.exe. Much of the data is broken down by school district.