How’s Your District Infrastructure Holding Up?

Jennifer Smith

By Jennifer Smith, MASB Director of Government Relations

DashBoard, April 13, 2016

Infrastructure has been in the news a lot lately. From school buildings in Detroit to lead pipes in Flint, it affects our daily lives. So how do you address it for the safety of your students? In Michigan, the answer isn’t easy. Michigan is one of a few states that do not have state monetary support for school infrastructure improvements. A district must go to its voters and ask them to support it through increased taxes for bonds or sinking funds. This is not always an easy task for a district and its leaders.

Other states have programs that support school infrastructure. For example, Georgia has a capital outlay program. The state has criteria and approves the projects and sells bonds to pay its portion. In Iowa, a penny from the state sales tax goes back to schools on a per-pupil basis to be used for infrastructure. And in New Jersey, the state matches a percentage of the total cost.

Loss of funds for local municipalities and townships through revenue sharing, tax abatements and tax cuts exacerbates the problem. The lack of inflationary increases in funding for our schools also can lead to a disinvestment in maintenance and upkeep of buildings.

The dire situations we face in Detroit and Flint and in less publicized places throughout the state are calling for a state solution. It’s time to have that debate—how do we fully fund and sustain the physical infrastructure that surrounds and protects our students? The physical environment plays a large part of a student’s overall learning environment.

Additionally, universities and community colleges are included in the capital outlay budget in Michigan. Under that process, the state matches up to 75% of the construction costs. Proposed projects for universities for the next fiscal year total more than $335 million in state funds. This is one area that could be considered to be expanded to public schools.

Another approach was introduced recently. House Bill 5353 would to create the Michigan Infrastructure Repair Bond Authorization Act. This would allow the state to bond for up to $1 billion to finance public infrastructure improvements for local units of government and school districts.

It is MASB’s hope that this bill and other legislative interest will help start the conversation on a bigger, policy-driven stage to reach a solution to a crumbling problem.

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