Georgia policy spotlight: A proposed solution for school facilities funding

Published on: 
2 May 2017
Emma Arnold

The Center for Green Schools at USGBC has put together a new white paper on a potential education tax in Georgia that could help eliminate the underfunding of school infrastructure in the state.

School infrastructure problems nationwide

The quality of school infrastructure in the United States is notoriously poor, with many out of date facilities falling into increasing disrepair. Schools received a D+ grade on the American Society of Civil Engineers' 2017 infrastructure report card, and the Center for Green School's 2016 State of Our Schools report found that our nation is projected to underinvest in school buildings by $46 billion annually.

Adequate funding is the key to bringing school facilities up to 21st century building standards, but funding structures for schools in the U.S. are complicated. Because the federal government provides almost no capital construction funding for school facilities, funding structures vary dramatically by state and region. In some states, such as Massachusetts, Wyoming and Kentucky, state-level funding pays for almost all of the capital construction costs for schools. But in other states, the entirety of the funding burden falls on the local community.

In addition to structure, the state and district-level funding mechanisms vary as well. Most school districts rely on property taxes to fund facilities improvements and new construction, which means that schools in wealthier districts receive more funding. Many states have grant or loan programs for school construction and improvements, though these often have matching fund requirements.

The Georgia education sales tax

One unique funding solution can be found in Georgia, where school infrastructure improvements can be funded through an optional 1 percent sales tax that communities choose to adopt, called an "education special purpose local option sales tax" (E-SPLOST). At the Green Schools Conference in March, over 30 state and local leaders in Atlanta convened to discuss using E-SPLOST in Georgia, considering the challenges and successes of this funding model.

In general, attendees affirmed that the advantages of SPLOST outweigh the disadvantages, with the main advantage being that school districts can access additional funds to invest in school facilities (which is not the case in many parts of the country). As a sales tax, SPLOST has a more gradual impact on taxpayers than a property tax often does.

However, as would be the case with a property tax, poorer and more rural districts with less retail have a smaller source of funds from which to draw. Thus, the quantity of funds that an E-SPLOST can generate and the speed with which those funds can be collected can vary widely, meaning that voters who approve the tax may grow frustrated if they can’t see tangible outcomes quickly.

More resources 

Download the E-SPLOST white paper