Drawing upon the experiences of other states that have dealt with extraordinary educational infrastructure challenges may be beneficial as new possibilities in Oklahoma are reviewed. Across the nation, most facility upgrades have been forced through litigation. Transformational practices can be gleaned from these examples. Other examples of transformative practices are community-school partnerships. The ways in which Arkansas, Ohio, Arizona, Texas and Maryland addressed facility concerns are discussed.
Arkansas is a prime example of statewide systematic change in educational facilities and transportation funding and support. Litigation was an important first step toward equitable support of educational physical resources, as well as a focus on increased quality of these resources. Lakeview School District sued the State of Arkansas, charging that it violated both the US and Arkansas constitutions. The plaintiff claimed educational facilities in Arkansas were inadequate, unequal, and in violation of the state constitutional guarantee of a free, adequate, efficient, and substantially equal public education for the children of Arkansas. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and charged the Governor and the Arkansas General Assembly with responsibility for correcting the problem (Lakeview, 2000).
However, two years later the school district returned to the Supreme Court since the required changes had not yet been addressed. Subsequently, a task force under the direction of the Arkansas General Assembly and consisting group of volunteers (including engineers and architects) developed a common assessment for examining all educational facilities under AR Law: 6-21-112 Division of Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation. The 2004 assessment included 308 school districts and 5,700 buildings (80 million square feet of floor space). This Facilities Division developed and implemented an ongoing uniform process for collecting, inventorying, and updated facilities. Additionally, statewide custodial maintenance schedules and support software were deployed to each facility, and a blueprint review was developed to meet all standards set by the facilities division. Additionally, bus inspections and the training of bus drivers fell within the Facilities Divisions purview (Arkansas Division of Public Schools, n.d.).
The Facilities Division as an independent component of the Arkansas Department of Education created a three-prong program to address facilities inadequacies. First, through an immediate repair program, all sites received one-time funding to address all health and safety standards. The next initiative intended to address new construction only, but subsequently provided more funding and a bridge from immediate repair to new construction. Finally, through a partnership program, the state created a partnership with school districts to assist with new construction needs (Arkansas Division of Public Schools, n.d.). All standards developed through the work of the Facilities Division are publicly available and include space requirements, design recommendations and templates for every space in an educational facility for an architect to follow. Additionally, the 2004 assessment laid the foundation for a database of ongoing improvements and qualifying life spans for all systems within a facility (Arkansas Division of Public Schools, n.d.). Support for technology acquisition and infrastructure updates fall under the purview of the Facilities Division, along with transportation maintenance and bus driver training.
Arkansas is not alone; lawsuits have been brought against thirty-five states challenging school-funding practices that failed to provide equitable facilities for all students (Access Quality Education, 2007; Raya & Rubin, 2006). Courts have ruled in favor of plaintiffs in a majority of these cases and required new policies be adopted. Arizona, Ohio, California, Maryland, Texas, New Jersey, and Connecticut are just a few of the states that have developed comprehensive programs for facilities funding over the last 15 years (Raya & Rubin, 2006).
The state of Ohio claims one of the oldest state-funded educational facilities assistance programs. In 1991, the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, an alliance of more than 500 school districts, filed a lawsuit claiming the funding structure relied too heavily on local property taxes to fund schools and thus could not provide a “thorough and efficient” educational system as dictated by the Ohio Constitution (Ohio Education Matters, 2009). The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in favor of the coalition and charged the Ohio General Assembly to correct the problems through a “complete, systemic overhaul” (DeRolph, 1997). Since 1997, the Ohio School Facilities Commission has provided a comprehensive set of standards for school designs for eligible districts. Property wealth is the determinant of eligibility, and participating districts are assessed for a district-wide K-12 determination of needs, facilities plan, and funding-support commitment. Annually, a manual of minimum standards for all educational facilities is published (Ohio School Facilities Commission, n.d.).
The Arizona’s Supreme Court ruled in 1994 that the state’s school capital finance system was unconstitutional, as it failed to conform to the constitution’s “general and uniform” clause (Roosevelt, 1994). The court interpreted the state’s constitution as requiring funding to provide school facilities that would enable students to meet the state’s student competency standards (Raya & Rubin, 2006, p. 3). Arizona’s Students’ FIRST (Fair and Immediate Resources for Students Today) capital finance program, funded by appropriations from the State General Fund, was created to address inequities in facility expenditures. Administered by a nine-member board, it is responsible for: 1) building renewal; 2) deficiencies corrections, including technology; and 3) new school construction (Hunter, 2010; School Facilities Board, 2009). Additionally, the School Facilities Board developed statewide minimum standards for all schools (Raya & Rubin, 2006). In 2011, Arizona revised Stat § 15-946 to adjust transportation support in an effort to equalize spending across the state.
The Texas Education Agency administers the Instructional Facilities Allotment program, authorized by House Bill 4 (1997), to provide funding for school districts to assist with debt-service payments on qualifying bonds and lease-purchase agreements of new construction, renovation, or expansion of educational facilities. Eligibility is determined based on the property wealth per student. Local districts can receive a percentage of funds toward the payment of their debt from the state’s General Revenue fund (Texas Education Agency, 2013).
The Hughes Commission was assembled in 1970 to examine the State Aid Foundation Program for Education and determine if the state could fully fund operating costs for schools. In 1971, the Commission recommended the state fully fund school construction costs. The State School Construction Program was established, and a $150 million bond authorized for Fiscal Year 1972. The State Board of Public Works (consisting of the Governor, State Comptroller, and State Treasurer) determines the organization, structure, rules, regulations, and administrative procedures of the program (Bi-Partisan Commission on School Construction, 2011). Maryland’s Public School Construction Program reimburses schools for construction of public schools that provide equalized educational facilities. The reimbursements are funded through the sales of state general obligation bonds and appropriated annually (Maryland Public School Construction Program, n.d.).
Partnering with and sharing the cost of construction with the community can provide extra amenities for schools.
Sedona High School Performing Arts Center
In 2007, the community of Sedona passed a $73 million bond for the school district. Part of the bond included the renovation of the existing auditorium into a state-of-the art performing arts center to seat 750 people. This performing arts center will not only be used by the district for its events, but will be used as a premier performing arts facility for the city of Sedona. Learn more.
Enid Public Schools
The district partners with the Commons Retirement Community and has a four-year-old program with teacher and assistant from Enid Public Schools in cooperation with the Commons Methodist Health Care (Retirement) Center. Learn more.
Union Public Schools
The Multipurpose Activity Center (UMAC) facility includes John Q. Hammons Arena, with seating for more than 5,000 and meeting rooms that can be used for a daily fee by the community. Learn more: https://www.unionps.org/index.cfm?id=643. The UMAC also has a Wellness Center, which the district partners with YMCA to manage. Learn more: http://www.unionps.org/index.cfm?id=470. Union Collegiate Academy is new high school wing where students are able to enjoy a facility that emulates a college campus. Learn more.