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Public Schools' Infrastructure Gets Near Failing Grade From Civil Engineers

The American Society of Civil Engineers gave public schools a D-plus in its report card on the nation's infrastructure, which it released on Thursday.

A D grade means that buildings are in fair to poor condition, with many elements nearing the end of their useful life and showing significant deterioration, according to the report. 

Among the findings:

  • Nearly a quarter of permanent public school buildings were in fair or poor condition. 
  • In more than 30 percent of public school facilities, windows, plumbing, and HVAC systems were in "fair" or "poor" condition.
  • Fifty-three percent of public schools needed to make repairs, renovations, or upgrades to be in "good" condition.

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The organization also assigned a D-plus as its overall grade for the country's infrastructure, in an assessment of 16 major categories, including roads, bridges, parks, dams, ports, aviation, and transit. The report is issued every four years.

The school facilities report card cites a 21st Century School Fund report on the state of school infrastructure that was released in 2016 and came to similar conclusions. The 21st Century School Fund report estimated that spending on public school facilities fell short by about $46 billion annually. The Society of Civil Engineers estimated the gap at $38 billion.   

Both reports noted that planning was an issue: One in four schools do not have long-term plans to deal with operating and maintaining buildings, according to the Society of Civil Engineers.

Funding is also a challenge. Five states cover most of the expenses associated with public schools' capital construction.  A dozen states do not give any money directly for school capital construction, and funding policies differ in the rest, the report said. With scarce funding resources, many districts have opted to put off maintenance and renovations or use short-term solutions that end up costing them more down the road, the report said.

On the campaign trail, President Trump proposed $1 trillion in spending to upgrade the nation's roads, bridges, and airports. While details of this proposal are still very much in the planning stagesschool advocacy groups hope that such plans will include money for school construction and renovation.

In addition to upgrading schools for the students and adults who use them daily, there is also a larger public purpose to invest in schools.  Schools often serve as emergency shelters during hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes—so it's imperative that they are able to withstand natural disasters, the group said.  

The report also offers suggestions to address the problem, including:

  • requiring regular assessment and publication of school infrastructure needs;
  • pushing districts to develop and regularly update comprehensive construction and maintenance plans;
  • increasing federal and state tax credits and matching funds to support school construction bonds and simplifying financing; and
  • exploring alternative funding methods, ownership, and use of school building projects.

You can read the report here. 

Image: Basketball courts show their age at a school in Fayette County, W. Va., where K-12 facilities are a major issue. --Doyle Maurer/Education Week

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