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NEPC Talks Education: A Conversation About K-12 School Facilities and Infrastructure Spending

BOULDER, CO (December 15, 2021)—In this month’s episode of NEPC Talks Education, NEPC Researcher Christopher Saldaña interviews Jeff Vincent, Julien Lafortune, and Kathleen Gebhardt about K-12 public school facilities and infrastructure. Vincent is cofounder and director of the Center for Cities and Schools at the University of California, Berkeley, where he studies how school facilities serve as both educational and neighborhood assets. Lafortune is a research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, where he researches education finance, school capital funding policy, and educational tracking and stratification. Gebhardt is a school board member in the Boulder Valley School District, as well as a director for the Colorado and National School Board Associations. She is also an attorney and adjunct professor teaching education law at University of Colorado Boulder and University of Denver. Saldaña, Lafortune, Vincent, and Gebhardt discuss K-12 school infrastructure spending and its impact on student outcomes. They also explore a model state K-12 school capital funding program designed and implemented in Colorado.

Vincent explains that unlike school operating expenditures, funds for facilities such as a new school or building upgrades come largely from local revenues. In their recent article, How Much Does Public School Facility Funding Depend on Property Wealth?, Vincent and his co-authors examine how wide variations in local property values can result in students living in low-income communities having less adequate school facilities than students living in more affluent communities.

Lafortune explains that this gap should concern policymakers given the evidence that spending on school buildings can have an impact on student performance. Lafortune explains that despite methodological challenges in studying the causal effect of infrastructure spending on student outcomes, new studies—including one he co-authored with David Schönholzer ​entitled The Impact of School Facility Investments on Students and Homeowners: Evidence from Los Angeles—has found that spending on facilities can improve student academic outcomes, especially in areas where school buildings are dilapidated or overcrowded.

Gebhardt describes the Colorado Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) program. The BEST program grew out of Giardino v. Colorado, a court case that challenged the state’s approach to funding school facilities. The BEST program provides grants for school facilities from the state’s general fund. According to Gebhardt, although the program funding is insufficient to meet the need, it has been successful in providing much-needed funding for school facilities in many communities that otherwise would not have been able to construct new schools or upgrade their existing schools.

Lafortune, Vincent, and Gebhardt all agree that school facility and infrastructure spending should receive more attention. Vincent encourages policymakers to consider how state governments and the federal government might play a larger and more consistent role in addressing the inequity that exists in current infrastructure spending. Lafortune argues one way to ensure that facilities spending is most effective is by identifying buildings that are most in need of upgrades; he argues that the strongest research evidence suggests that spending on buildings in the worst condition can have a significant effect on student academic outcomes. Gebhardt explains that because policymakers are often concerned about using one-time funds for ongoing expenditures, she recommends that one-time COVID funds be used to upgrade facilities; in particular, upgrades that improve air quality and provide more space for students.

A new NEPC Talks Education podcast episode, hosted by Christopher Saldaña, will be released each month from September through May. 

Don’t worry if you miss a month. All episodes are archived on the NEPC website and can be found here.

NEPC podcast episodes are also available on Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher, under the title NEPC Talks Education. Subscribe and follow!

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: