School Facilities:

Construction Expenditures Have Grown Significantly in Recent Years

HEHS-00-41: Published: Mar 3, 2000. Publicly Released: Mar 3, 2000.

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Cynthia Maher Fagnoni
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed construction expenditures for public school facilities, focusing on: (1) the trends since 1990 in elementary and secondary school construction expenditures and how construction expenditures were divided between land, buildings, and equipment; (2) the trends since 1990 in the amount of expenditures for elementary and secondary school construction by type of school and type of construction; and (3) what is known about the amounts and mix of state and local funding for elementary and secondary school construction.

GAO noted that: (1) annual construction expenditures for elementary and secondary schools across the nation grew by 39 percent from fiscal year (FY) 1990 through FY 1997 to about $25 billion after adjusting for inflation; (2) this trend, according to reports by the Department of Education and others, reflects a variety of factors, including higher enrollments, a strong economy, and an increasing need to replace old buildings; (3) most of the increase in expenditures was for the construction of buildings, while expenditures for equipment such as heating and air conditioning systems increased only slightly during the 8-year period, and spending on land and for the purchase of buildings such as portable classrooms showed a net decline; (4) average annual construction expenditures per pupil varied widely from state to state, ranging from $934 in Nevada to $37 in Connecticut; (5) states with the largest expenditures per pupil, such as Nevada, tended to also have the highest enrollment growth rates, and those with the lowest expenditures per pupil had relatively low enrollment growth rates; (6) most of the growth in construction expenditures during calendar years 1990 through 1998 was for construction at primary schools and high schools, according to data on construction contracts; (7) also, most of the contract spending from 1990 through 1998 was for new facilities and additions to existing facilities, with significantly less being spent on renovations; (8) the largest source of funding for school construction is generally local construction bonds; (9) however, no current and complete database shows the sources of funding for school construction; (10) as a result, nationwide data on how amounts and portions of funds are divided between localities and states are not available; (11) studies show a range in the degree to which the states rely on local and state funding for school construction projects; (12) while in most states some combination of local and state funding supports school construction, 15 states provided little or no funding in 1998-1999; and (13) Hawaii, where the school district and the state are coterminous, provides all funding.

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