Revise school construction funding formulas
Some states' school funding formulas favor new construction in outlying areas over building or renovating schools in existing cities and towns. Those funding formulas arbitrarily take investment decisions out of the hands of school districts and their communities.
State policies and formulas often cap funding for school renovations, which unnecessarily pushes administrators to build new schools - even when they'd prefer to rehabilitate of an existing building. Many states have a "two-thirds rule," under which school districts are required or at least encouraged to build a new school when renovation costs exceed two-thirds, or some other set portion, of the construction costs of a new school. Not following the guideline can lead to forfeiture of state funding in some states.
The State should revise the formulas to instead favor the rehabilitation of existing schools, or at least the construction of schools in centrally located districts.
Governors can encourage rehabilitation of existing schools by supporting legislation that modifies the "two-thirds" rule or by encouraging the Department of Education to modify the rule so that school rehabilitation or construction in older communities is generally favored over new construction outside existing communities. The change would give school districts more flexibility in using state money to rehabilitate older buildings.
The state Department of Education also may need to conduct outreach to school districts about the benefits of renovation and may need to help local districts adopt policies and practices that support renovation. After years of pushing in the opposite direction, it may be necessary to point out that improving existing schools provides community benefits that are greater than can be seen through a simple test of comparative building costs. The two-thirds rule is so ingrained in the educational community that school districts often follow it even when state funding or approval is not involved.
- Pennsylvania's School Construction Requirements
In 1998, the Pennsylvania Department of Education rescinded its "60 percent rule." It reaffirmed that decision in 2002. At the same time, Pennsylvania rescinded a prohibition on building multi-level schools made out of wood-frame construction. Together, the changes have encouraged rehabilitation of existing schools. Currently, 80 percent of all school reimbursements in the state involve work on existing buildings. The Pennsylvania Code also supports rehabilitation projects. PA Code § 349.24, "Building and equipment reimbursement considerations," reads: "Renovation of a school building to achieve current educational standards and reasonably current construction standards shall be reimbursable. The Department will maintain guidelines which differentiate between educational renovation and deferred maintenance or structural alteration."
— Pennsylvania Building and Equipment Reimbursement Considerations
— Pennsylvania School and Facilities Construction