$46 billion gap exists in school building funds, report says

$46 billion gap exists in school building funds, report says

Studies show that productivity climbs and cognitive function spikes among those spending their days inside green buildings. But when it comes to America’s schools, where such positive impacts perhaps are needed most, children are being failed by woeful funding, a new study says.

The report, State of Our Schools: America’s K-12 Facilities, reveals that the nation faces a projected annual shortfall of $46 billion in school funding, despite significant effort by local communities to dedicate more money to education infrastructure. 

“One out of every six people in the U.S. spends each day in a K-12 public school classroom, yet there is very little oversight over America’s public school buildings,” said Rick Fedrizzi, CEO and founding chair of the USGBC. “It is totally unacceptable that there are millions of students across the country who are learning in dilapidated, obsolete and unhealthy facilities that pose obstacles to their learning and overall wellbeing. U.S. public school infrastructure is funded through a system that is inequitably affecting our nation’s students and this has to change.”

The report points out that funding for school maintenance and capital improvements in most states – 32, in fact – vary greatly. And the federal government contributes almost nothing to capital construction to help alleviate disparities. 

Currently, six states (Massachusetts, Wyoming, Connecticut, Ohio, Kentucky and Hawaii) pay for all or nearly all of the capital construction costs for schools in their state, while 12 states (Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin) provide no direct support to districts for capital construction responsibilities, according to the research.

Many local districts try to shoulder the financial burden themselves. The problem, researchers found, is that when school districts cannot afford to make significant investments, they are often forced to make more frequent building repairs from their operating funds—the same budget that pays for teacher salaries, instructional materials and general programming.

The study was done by the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the 21st Century School Fund and the National Council on School Facilities.

School funding long has been a point of contention in parts of the country. If anything, the continued discussion should address where students learn as well as what they learn, said Mike Rowland, president of the National Council on School Facilities and director of Facilities Services for the Georgia Department of Education.   

The State of Our Schools study comes at a time when facilities funding has gained recent attention in Detroit, where complaints of rodents, mold and other problems contributed to teacher sick-outs that temporarily closed dozens of buildings in January, according to the Associated Press.

The report features an in-depth state-by-state analysis of investment in school infrastructure and focuses on 20 years of school facility investment nationwide, as well as funding needed moving forward to make up for annual investment shortfalls for essential repairs and upgrades. The report also proposes recommendations for investments, innovations and reforms to improve learning environments for children in all U.S. public schools. 

The report compares historic spending levels to the investment that will be needed moving forward to maintain today’s school building inventory. Estimated facilities investment requirements are based on building industry best practice standards that are adapted to public school infrastructure. This comparison reveals a projected gap of $46 billion that we as a nation must overcome to provide healthy, safe, and adequate school facilities for our children. Only three states’ average spending levels meet or exceed the standards for investment: Texas, Florida and Georgia.

It has been more than 20 years since the federal government completed a comprehensive assessment of school facilities. At the time, more than half of U.S. schools had indoor air quality issues, and more than 15,000 schools were circulating air deemed unfit to breathe. 

“The way we fund school infrastructure means that communities and states are working largely on their own to provide high-quality facilites. Without new funding models, schools in low-income areas will be unable to meet even the most basic standards for health and safety,” said Rachel Gutter, director of the Center for Green Schools at USGBC. “Federal, state and local level stakeholders – from senators to state legislators to superintendents, from community leaders to impact investors – must collaborate to solve this problem.” 

To download the full State of Our Schools: America’s K-12 Facilities report, and to find out the conditions in your local school district, visit www.stateofourschools.org.

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