Research Report Assessing the National Landscape of Capital Expenditures for Public School Districts
Kristin Blagg, Fanny Terrones, Victoria Nelson
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Nationally, students from low-income backgrounds are less likely than other students to attend school in a building that is in “excellent” or “good” condition. States vary in whether, and how, they allocate funding to help with school building construction and renovation.

This report documents current state policy on school district capital expenditures and links this information to a state-level measure of the overall progressivity of capital expenditures for students who come from households with income below the federal poverty level.

Why this matters

Investments in school facilities can improve building conditions, reduce student exposure to environmental pollutants, and reduce overcrowding.

What we found

  • In several states, students from households below the federal poverty level experience lower average levels of district-level per pupil capital outlay than students from households above the federal poverty level.
  • Some states do not regularly assess school building conditions or provide substantial state funding to support school construction and renovation.
  • States that have a policy of property wealth equalization, or that use other measures of local income or student socioeconomic need, are more likely to have school capital expenditures that allocate equal or more funding for low-income students.
State Policy Choices and Typical Capital Spending for Low-Income Students

Based on these findings, we recommend ways that state and federal policymakers can support school facility improvements:

  • State policymakers can ensure that all school facilities are frequently assessed for building condition.
  • State policymakers could consider increasing or initiating state funding support for capital expenditures and implementing measures that account for district-level differences in resources.
  • Federal policymakers can continue to produce data on building quality, particularly as it relates to student demographics and socioeconomic status.
  • Federal policymakers could consider targeted federal grants for school facilities, aimed at improving student health and academic outcomes.

How we did it

The data for this study come from a combination of quantitative and qualitative sources. We collected data on state policies using state websites and other sources and attempted to validate our interpretations by contacting state officials. We used five-year rolling averages of per pupil district-level capital expenditure data, as reported in the US Department of Education’s Common Core of Data, combined with data on the share of school-age children living below the federal poverty level, to estimate state-level progressivity in capital spending.

Research Areas Education
Tags K-12 education Racial equity in education
Policy Centers Center on Education Data and Policy