School Law Bulletin #2003/04

Adequate Public Facility Criteria: Linking Growth to School Capacity

Wednesday, January 1, 2003

A number of school systems in North Carolina today are struggling to provide school facilities adequate to a system of quality education. In some jurisdictions, local financial resources may be too meager to provide a system of high- quality public schools. In other areas, where financial resources are adequate, the electorate may be unwilling to support the construction of new school facilities or the expansion or renovation of existing ones. In still other school districts, rapid population growth and a rise in the number of school-age children are creating pressures on local governments to provide schools in time to accommodate this growth. In such a situation, political support for public schools may fade if voters come to associate overcrowded schools with an influx of newcomers into the community.

It seems elementary that population growth should lead to a larger tax base, increased tax revenues, and more opportuni- ties for local governments to provide and pay for new public facilities. In areas of rapid growth, however, public revenues do not necessarily become available at a suitable pace or in the right form to cover growing public costs. Local governmentsand school districts find it difficult to plan for and commit public funds to capital projects before the need for them becomes obvious.

In most debates about school facilities, population growth— while not capable of exact prediction—is viewed as a given, a reason to expand school capacity. However, a few North Carolina communities are trying to accomplish the converse, hoping to link growth to school capacity. They are applying adequate public facilities (APF) criteria to their local govern- ment planning programs and land development ordinances.

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