Many of the nation’s school buildings are in a state of disrepair, two new reports say, and it would cost roughly $270 billion to bring them up to date.
The American Society of Civil Engineers’ “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure,” released every four years, analyzes the condition of schools along with energy systems, bridges, and dams. The 2013 report found that while American infrastructure overall ticked up from a D grade in 2009 to a D-plus this year, schools have remained flat, at D—a “poor grade.”
There is less information on the status of school buildings than that of other types of infrastructure, such as roads or bridges, because federal data on school facilities have not been updated since 1999, the report says.
Total school construction and modernization spending has been on the decline since 2004, falling from nearly $30 billion to a little more than $10 billion last year, according to the report. Since 2009, however, there has been a minor increase in spending on school additions and modernizations. Because school construction is paid for primarily through local taxes, the report authors found construction and maintenance budgets took an outsize hit in the recent recession.
That dovetails with findings of a separate new report by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Center for Green Schools. It estimates how much schools should have spent on building upkeep between 1995 and 2008 and how much they actually spent. The gap was $271 billion, it says. And that’s just for upkeep: Modernization would cost $542 billion more, the report estimates. Almost half the nation’s school buildings were built in the 1950s and 1960s.
Both reports call on the federal government to collect more information and provide more regular updates on school conditions. The civil engineers’ group says the government should work with states to create a national database of school conditions and available money and financing to improve them; the building council suggests that information on school buildings be collected in states’ longitudinal-data systems.
In a blog post, the Center for Green Schools’ director, Rachel Gutter, said collecting such data would, she hoped, allow states and districts to spot and then address safety, health, education, and environmental concerns.
A version of this article appeared in the March 27, 2013 edition of Education Week as U.S. School Facilities Given ‘D’ For Sustainability and Upkeep