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Stat of the Week — Dec. 21, 2006

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School Conditions Under the Spotlight

Two recent reports shed light on the condition of school facilities across the nation. The reports assess the need for investment in school construction or repair projects and discuss policy recommendations for state and federal agencies.

The American Federation of Teachers' December 2006 report, "Building Minds, Minding Buildings: Turning Crumbling Schools Into Environments for Learning," finds that many students and teachers operate in schools that have extreme temperatures, mold, poor lighting and dysfunctional bathrooms. ("School Facilities," Report Roundup, Dec. 6, 2006.)

Similarly, "Growth and Disparity: A Decade of U.S. Public School Construction," an October 2006 report from Building Educational Success Together—a partnership of organizations dedicated to upgrading public school facilities—finds that problems stemming from a lack of adequate investment in school facilities continue to be particularly acute in schools with higher percentages of low-income and minority students. ("Facilities Spending Criticized as Uneven," Oct. 26, 2006.)

While states and school districts have spent large sums of money on school construction and modernization in the last ten years or so, school districts with the most disadvantaged students spent only about half as much money for those activities as more affluent districts, according to the BEST report. Moreover, the report finds that schools with higher percentages of low-income students were more likely to spend money on basic necessities while wealthier schools had the ability to use funding for efforts to improve learning such as science labs or other technology.

Citing studies linking the quality of school facilities to academic achievement, both reports argue that Congress should write new requirements intended to improve the condition of school buildings into the No Child Left Behind Act. For example, the AFT report proposes that a "learning environment index" be included in NCLB. The index would measure conditions such as the adequacy and safety of school facilities.

The role of states in policymaking on school facilities issues is also receiving scrutiny. Historically, much of the action on school construction and renovation has taken place on the local or district level. State activity in this policy area has varied across the nation. In "Building Minds, Minding Buildings," the AFT asserts that problems with school facilities are caused by "lack of attention to maintenance/operations and inadequate funding." Increased investment at the state level is seen as an important way to bolster local efforts to remedy those problems.

In this week's Stat of the Week, the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center looks at recent data on state policy related to school facilities. Data collected for Education Week's Quality Counts report show that the number of states funding capital outlay or school construction projects decreased slightly from 40 in 2002 to 38 in 2006. The number of states tracking the condition of school facilities increased from 22 to 27 over the same time period.

To find out more about school climate in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, access the Education Counts database.

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