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At Risk: Our US School Buildings

A recently published (2016) 20-year study corroborated that many students attend schools with less than desirable learning environments due to under funding of maintenance and capital improvements.

The collaborative effort of three entities (21st Century School Fund, US Green Building Council, and the National Council on School Facilities) sought to create a fact-based study that would examine whether:

  • States and districts have necessary operating funds for maintenance and repairs to buildings and grounds to make them safe and healthy
  • States and districts are ensuring educational equity for all students; and, schools are: energy-efficient, incorporate sustainability, provide modern educational opportunities
  • States and districts have adequate capital funds to ensure public schools possess the aforementioned attributes

Conducted from 1994-2014, statistics were derived from a variety of publicly available data, including, but not only, the National Center for Education and information reported by K-12 districts on F-33 Fiscal Surveys.  The report’s summary noted that in the 20-year span in which statistics were gathered, “facilities changed more rapidly in recent memory, fueled by improved health and safety standards, stronger accessibility requirements, increased use of technology, and expanded program needs.” A catalyst for the study was “Condition of America’s Schools” a 1995 federal review which reported that “half of our schools had problems linked to indoor air quality” and tens of thousands with air circulating “deemed unfit to breathe.”

The monetary results of the study indicated the national average of state and district expenditures over these 20 years was $46 billion (per year), with an average of $49 billion during the same period for capital budgets utilized for new construction and improvements.

However, these averages do not reveal the way schools are funded results in inequitable learning opportunities: maintenance and operating budgets are derived from state (about 45%) and federal (about 10%) funds; however, local districts are the primary source in making capital investments to build and improve district schools. The deduction is clear: classrooms in large, wealthy communities vary greatly from their counterparts.

From the study’s data, it is estimated that in (2016) we should be spending $146 billion for M&O, $77 billion per year in capital upgrades, and an additional $10 billion for new construction to prepare for an increasing student population. The reality is the nation is under funding our public-school facilities by a projected annual gap of $46 billion for maintenance and operations, capital construction, and new facilities.

With our public schools as the nation’s largest public building sector, about one-quarter of all state and local infrastructure, the report beckons to attend to maintenance requirements and properly prepare to invest in future generations of learners.

The complete report offers individual state profiles regarding the 50 states endeavors to meet today’s facilities investment needs, as well as four key strategies for communities to address K-12 infrastructure deficits.  Visit: http://www.stateofourschools.org to view its entirety.

Unesco’s experienced team has supported our clients with planning, architecture, engineering, construction and energy optimization solutions. We’ve worked extensively throughout the upper Midwest with over one hundred K-12 school districts, higher education facilities, and various branches of government. Unesco develops, funds, and implements Master Facility Plans