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Public Schools Need Nearly $200 Billion to Improve Facilities, Survey Finds

Upgrading the nation's public K-12 school buildings to a "good overall condition" would cost about $200 billion, according to a new, nationally representative survey released today by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Fifty-three percent of public schools need to spend money on repairs, renovations, and modernizations to put them into good condition—improvements that would cost about $4.5 million per school, results from the survey show.

For schools where 75 percent or more of students are eligible for free and reduced-price meals, the percentage in need of substantial upgrades to reach good condition is 60 percent. A higher percentage of schools in the Western states (59 percent) reported a need for major repairs and renovations than in the three other major regions of the country. 

Thirty-one percent of public schools use portable buildings for classroom space on their sites, but such temporary buildings are more commonly found in schools that serve large numbers of poor and minority students, the survey found.

The survey sample drew from responses of administrators at approximately 1,800 regular public elementary, middle, and secondary/combined schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and represents the reported conditions of school facilities in the 2012-13 academic year. 

Other findings from the survey include:

  • Sixty percent of public schools have written long-range facilities plans, with 17 percent reporting that major repairs and modernization work was already under way in the 2012-13 school year;
  • Thirty-nine percent said major renovations and modernizations were on tap for the next two years, with security-system replacements and technology upgrades among the main reasons;
  • The average age of public schools' main instructional buildings is 44 years.

In addition to finding resources to pay for major upgrades and modernizations, urban districts especially find themselves increasingly in need of strategies for managing a growing roster of empty, surplus buildings, an issue explored in a study of 12 cities last year by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

UPDATE: This post has been updated to correct the dollar amount in the headline.

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