School Facilities Form a Foundation for Learning

Karin Bloss, a special education teacher at Discovery Elementary School, in Arlington, Va., catches up on work between periods. Discovery is known as a “green school,” with a design premium on energy efficiency and environmental factors.
Karin Bloss, a special education teacher at Discovery Elementary School, in Arlington, Va., catches up on work between periods. Discovery is known as a “green school,” with a design premium on energy efficiency and environmental factors.
—Swikar Patel/Education Week
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Debate over the nation's schools often focuses on the abstract and the academic: testing, standards, student achievement, and the teaching profession in all its challenges and complexities.

This Education Week special report is all about the more concrete—and equally crucial—topic of school facilities and what it takes to assure that the nation's 56 million schoolchildren have a modern, fully-equipped, well-maintained school to attend, and a place where all that theory and educator experience can be put into practice.

School facilities are the literal foundation for the learning that takes place every day in some 13,000 school districts large and small. Building and maintaining them is a gargantuan financial lift—an estimated $49 billion per year for new schools and major capital projects nationwide, and $46 billion a year for maintenance and operations, according to a 2016 joint report by the 21st Century School Fund, the National Council on Facilities, and the Center for Green Schools.

The political and planning puzzles involved in getting the green light for that work and following it through to completion also put a heavy burden on local leaders, raising pointed questions about communities' priorities and their long-term commitment to K-12 public education.

For this report, Education Week reporters examined the school facilities challenge through the lenses of planning and finance. They explore how communities prepare for and cope with the pressures of student enrollment growth and an aging portfolio of school buildings. They outline ways in which district leaders make their case for the investments amid budget uncertainties and an often-skeptical—and aging—taxpayer base. And they showcase innovative new school buildings and state-of-the-art retrofits tailored to the demands of a 21st century student body.

This package offers school leaders insights into the path forward as they seek to move beyond the frozen-in-amber model of monolithic buildings, long corridors, and walled off classrooms that still holds sway in the world of school facilities in many communities.

Vol. 37, Issue 14, Page 1

Published in Print: November 29, 2017, as The Foundation for Learning
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