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Report Finds Funding for Country's K-12 Public School Facilities Is Inequitable

Report Finds Funding for Country's K-12 Public School Facilities Is Inequitable

 

 

A ground-breaking new report from the 21st Century School Fund, the National Council on School Facilities and the U.S. Green Building Council has found that K-12 public school facilities are severely underfunded throughout the country thanks to a lack of federal oversight and minimal state accountability.

The report, titled The State of Our Schools: America's K-12 Facilities "found that the federal government provides almost no capital construction funding for school facilities, and state support for school facilities varies widely,” the organizations said in a press release.

"Local school districts bear the heaviest burden in making the investments needed to build and improve school facilities. When school districts cannot afford to make these 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.”

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According to the report, the last report as comprehensive in nature was in 1995 when the U.S. Government Accounting Office performed a federal review with devastating findings: “[t]he report found that half of all schools had problems linked to indoor air quality and an unacceptable 15,000 schools were circulating air deemed unfit to breathe."

Despite over $2 trillion being invested in the nation’s public schools since, the latest report blasts communities and states for being solely responsible for designing high-quality facilities. Without a federal standard and without oversight, the report says, many communities and states are currently missing the mark.

Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the report:

  • Local school districts bear the biggest burden in funding K-12 school facilities despite wealth disparities; the federal government contributes also no “capital construction to help alleviate disparities.”
  • The nation is under-spending on school facilities by $46 billion, or 32 percent less than they should annually.
  • The average age of a public school building in 2012 was 44-years-old, meaning most public schools buildings are in need of significant repairs.
  • Public schools were determined in 2013 to be falling behind on projects estimated to be worth $271 billion in deferred maintenance and repairs.
  • Most funding for the operating budget of districts over the 20 year period came from local sources (81 percent), with 19 percent coming from states and almost none coming from federal government.
  • For poor communities, that has resulted in major inequity.
  • School districts should be spending at least $1,200 per student on maintenance and operation costs and $8 per square feet for maintenance, cleaning, operation and security costs.

With this all in mind and looking to the future, the report found that considering a projected increase of student enrollment by 3.1 million students by 2024 and significant future costs for school construction, many states are on track for trouble.

The report made several recommendations for how states and communities should proceed in the best interest of the students they serve.

"Federal, state, and local stakeholders — from senators to state legislators to superintendents, community leaders to impact investors — must collaborate to create, pilot, and scale new solutions and document successful strategies. Community and investment partners must come to the table,” the report said.

 

"Thought leaders from education, government, industry, and communities are invited to use and improve on the data and standards framework presented in this report to brainstorm, share, and pilot creative new solutions to these common facilities challenges. Successful strategies that emerge from these pilots must be documented, refined, and adapted for scale. The result: school facilities that meet the needs of today’s students, in every community, and for generations to come.”

 

Download a copy of the report here.

Article by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor

3/23/2016

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