According to estimates in a new report released by a group that advocates for environmentally-sound buildings, the nation is spending $46 billion less each year on school construction and maintenance than is necessary to ensure safe and healthy facilities.
The study is meant to draw attention to the condition of buildings that on weekdays house some 56 million students and teachers — more than one-sixth of the U.S. population — but that nevertheless attract little attention in the national debate over education policy and reform.
The report argues the country needs to keep better track of the state of its schools and find new funding sources for their upkeep so that local districts that now bear the heaviest funding burdens don’t have to divert money from instruction.
The report notes poor communities in far-flung rural places and declining industrial city centers tend to be in a particularly bad situation: School construction budgets rely even more heavily on local dollars than operating budgets. And in many places spending has not recovered from cuts made during the recession, leaving school districts struggling to patch problems.
There are 100,000 K-12 public schools in the United States. They represent the largest public building sector in the United States and the second-largest category of public infrastructure investment, the report said, yet it has been 20 years since the government completed a comprehensive assessment of the state of school buildings.
The issue 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.