School Construction Loans

By Naomi Dillon

Finish this statement: “Our facilities will be up to date if we ...”

Maybe your answer includes fixing an antiquated heating and ventilation system, or a leaky roof. Perhaps it’s your dial-up Internet connection -- yes, some districts still have no access to broadband -- or your cramped hallways, classrooms, or cafeteria. Perhaps it’s all of the above.

For cash-strapped districts, finding ways to fund this open-ended list of fixes takes the form of a flawed multiple- choice test, where the “correct” answer may not be the best one. Often, you have to prioritize one project over another, even though all need to be done.

That’s one reason the price tag for renovating, updating, and replacing America’s schools has risen to more than $320 billion, a figure based on 2005 data. It’s also why the federal government has allocated nearly $24 billion in bonds over the next two years to help districts build, repair, and renovate school sites, and in some cases, improve curriculum and teacher quality.

The bonds are not part of Race to the Top or the Investing in Innovation Fund, two federal programs announced amid much fanfare last year. Rather, these monies are part of the Qualified School Construction Bonds (QSCB) and Qualified Zone Academy Bonds (QZAB), acronyms with far less grace but far more opportunities for a greater number of districts -- if only more investors would buy in.

But before we get into that, let’s decipher the alphabet soup.

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