By Ryan Duffy, Communications Fellow
The Center for Green Schools just released a 30-page long assessment of America's K-12 Facilities. This comprehensive federal review of our nation's school infrastructure bleakly concludes that schools are severely underfunded (to the tune of $46 billion a year). The construction, maintenance, and operations of our nation's schools are essential, as is the health and future success of students who occupy them.
The report includes 5 critical chapters: a section explaining why school facilities matter so much, a section proposing “a generation of facilities change,” a brief chronology of public education facilities spending from 1994 to 2013, a chapter addressing the thresholds and criteria for obtaining satisfactory educational facility standards, and a concluding outline of strategies to meet modern standards and a call to action. Here are some brief excerpts from the report and the concluding call to action:
School Facilities Affect Health and Performance
The importance of facilities to health and performance is well established. In a literature review examining ventilation rates and respiratory illness, for example, researchers at Lawrence Berkeley Labs noted an increase of 50 percent to 370 percent in the incidence of respiratory illness in spaces with low ventilation rates, as are commonly found in schools, compared to spaces meeting industry-accepted standards. Breathing fresh air is not only critical for keeping students healthy but also for keeping them alert. Several studies have linked recirculating air and low ventilation rates in classrooms with lower average daily attendance and slower speed in completing tasks. Studies also have found that poor facilities are strongly associated with student truancy and higher rates of suspensions.
School Facilities Impact the Environment
The massive scale of school district infrastructure has a major impact on overall municipal infrastructure. One green roof installed on an existing school in New York City, for example, resulted in a reduction in storm water runoff of 450,000 gallons a year, both protecting the city’s water treatment systems and promoting wildlife habitats.11 Districts also have removed hardscape — like asphalt — and used native plants in landscaping, which helps mitigate a community’s vulnerabilities from drought and flooding. Locating schools near the homes of students can enhance a community’s resilience by providing ready shelter and safety in the event of natural disasters. And it can simultaneously reduce vehicle miles traveled by parents and buses, contributing to healthier air and reduced fuel consumption.
A Call to Action
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. Five states already have created separate agencies dedicated to school facilities. Some are focused primarily on state allocation of capital funds. Others are engaged in planning and project management and construction itself. One — New Mexico Public School Authority — is involved in the continuum of facilities from M&O to design and construction. However, the current reality is that most districts in most states must deliver 21st century school facilities on their own. 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.
To read the full report, click here.