For much of the 20th century, schools were located in neighborhoods where children could easily and safely walk or bicycle to school. Schools also served as community centers. With the expansion of suburbs, policymakers and local officials began to favor consolidating children from smaller schools into larger schools as population growth and new patterns of development emerged over the past 60 years. These larger schools were supposed to be more cost-efficient and were consistent with guidelines. These larger schools were also located on the outskirts of the community, where land was less expensive and more readily available.

The move towards larger schools located on the outskirts of communities has had a number of consequences for children and communities. Larger schools on the outskirts of communities can drive up infrastructure costs necessary to meet the needs of the new school and related development. In addition, children often become unable to walk or bicycle to school because of a combination of factors such as lack of adequate pedestrian infrastructure, distance to school, and a lack of or perceived lack of safety.

This Issue Brief examines state policies on school siting, school construction financing, and Safe Routes to School programs focusing on how policies can benefit communities, improve children's health and reduce the need for infrastructure expansion. State strategies include:

  • reducing or eliminating minimum acreage requirements for schools;
  • revising school funding formulas to promote renovation or expansion of existing sites;
  • requiring that schools be located in areas designated for growth that already have sufficient existing infrastructure to support school facilities; and
  • creating, funding, promoting, and implementing Safe Routes to School Programs.