Schools in the US are in a dismal state, says the Education Week article “The Dismal State of School Infrastructure, in Charts.”
It mentioned the following:
- A Pennsylvania high school with leaky pipes and broken fire alarms.
- A ceiling of an empty elementary school in Connecticut whose ceiling has collapsed and caused the school to flood.
- North Carolina’s pre-K facility has lead in its water fountains and faucets.
The article notes that insufficient and inequitable public investment is the reason behind these infrastructure problems.
With a growing number of nationwide K-12 enrolments and evolving technology, it places school buildings years and decades behind with the needed upgrades and repairs, leaving students in unsafe and less-than-ideal learning environments.
The Harvard Kennedy School news article “When the heat is on, student learning suffers” mentions research examining millions of test scores reveals that high school students tend to get lower scores when it is hot, but having air conditioning can prevent the adverse effect.
CNN’s article, “US public schools get a D+ for poor conditions, and experts say problems are getting worse. Here’s what kids are facing,” describes the school infrastructure problems – children get distracted and, in some cases, get sick, which can affect their learning.
The CNN article mentions:
- When it gets too hot in the classroom due to lack of air conditioning, students are sent home, some schools suffer from a cockroach infestation, and some have rusty water leaking on their ceilings.
- These issues are just at the tip of the bigger problem of the significant underfunding of public schools, and stressed-out teachers are pushed to leave their professions entirely.
- The American Society for Civil Engineers gave the 100,000 US public schools a grade of D+ in the “2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure.” Part of the problem is that the school buildings are old.
- The average age is around 50 years. Aging infrastructure requires more repairs, yet the public school funding gap is growing.
- In Baltimore, 14 schools don’t have air conditioning; when temperatures reach 85F degrees or higher, children are told to go home, which can impede their academic success. The situation had improved over five years when the State had 75 public schools without an AC.
- The total cost of installing all of them with an AC system is US$250 million – which is around five times the district’s annual infrastructure budget.
- However, the State was able to chip at the problem gradually, and five years later, only 14 schools are without air conditioning which they plan to fix within two years.
- The State also has aging school buildings. Around 65% of its public schools are more than 41 years old, and a third are over 51 years old. There is also a significant backlog of updating work that needs to be done, says school district Chief Operating Officer Lynette Washington.
- In Denver, 40 public schools still lack an AC system, down from 55 in 2018. Supply chain problems have delayed installing the system, so the district had to resort to temporary heat mitigation solutions by using portable cooling units during the daytime and opening the school windows at night.
- When it gets hot, some of the students complain that it gets hard to breathe inside the classroom, and if they are sent home early, it causes a transport issue as buses are not available until the usual school dismissal.
Leaky Massachusetts school
A leaky ceiling is a constant problem in a district school in Lowell, Massachusetts classroom. Rusty water drips from the classroom ceiling creating ugly stains in areas where the water manages to land. The school has to use a trash bin to collect the dripping water.
According to Tom Golden, a City Manager, the problem is that this school and the 28 other district schools are managed by the City of Lowell, which also looks after municipal buildings. The setup can lead to confusion about who is responsible for repairs, Golden says.
Some teachers have resorted to crowdsourcing to finance their classroom repairs – a practice that is not unusual nationwide. The city is also raising funds to repair all Lowell schools for the current school year and another sizeable amount to build a new high school.
The 2021 State of our Schools report reveals the worsening funding gap:
- In 2016 public schools were underfunded by $46 billion a year, or $60 billion when adjusted to inflation to 2020 dollars.
- By 2021, the yearly deficit has grown by $26 billion.
- Regarding the source of funding for the schools, the report states that local school district pays a large majority of capital projects at 77%, while states only pay 22%.
The CNN article notes that creating the next generation’s leaders hinges on providing everyone – whether from poor or wealthy communities- access to the education they deserve.
Implementing infrastructure management practices would assist US school districts and state governments in quantifying maintenance backlogs and prioritizing the expenditure required.