Notwithstanding worries about a looming recession and misperceptions that schools are swimming in money, California voters approved 71 of 101 TK-12 and community college construction bond proposals in November 2022. The 65 of 94 TK-12 and six of seven community college district ballot measures that won will generate $20 billion in renovations and new construction, according to an EdSource report.


The overall passage of 71% is below the average approval rate of 80% since 2001, according to The voting margins also seemed thinner, according to Jeff Becker, executive director of facilities for the Office of the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools and chair of the Coalition for Adequate School Housing (CASH).


With a number of districts just a few percentage points below or above the 55% threshold to pass a school bond, officials were kept in suspense for weeks, until the final votes were announced in early December.


The biggest successful bond initiatives were $3.2 billion for San Diego Unified, the state’s second-largest district; $1.7 billion for Long Beach Unified; and $572 million for East Side Union High School District in San Jose. Many measures received more than 70% of the vote.


While Napa Valley Unified’s $200 million major upgrade and renovation plan lost by 0.4 percentage points, 20,000-student Fairfield-Suisun Unified in Solano County eked out a victory for $250 million in renovations with 55.01%.


Also narrowly winning, with 57.2% was 14,600-student Pleasanton Unified in the Bay Area. Its $395 million bond proposal will fund new classroom construction for career technical education and early childhood education students.


CASH’s Becker told EdSource he was proud that so many districts’ voters showed they cared about school facilities, considering the headwinds that construction initiatives faced. He cited a list of factors: “pandemic polarization” over masking and vaccination mandates that angered some voters; fear of inflation and a deteriorating economy; and the misperception that, with record funding for schools, districts could use the money to float construction bonds.


Some districts did use some federal and state COVID-19 relief for health and safety measures, like HVAC system upgrades, but the infusion of one-time assistance wasn’t intended to displace local funding for capital projects.