If America’s school facilities were graded like students, let’s just say they wouldn’t make the grade.
That’s according to the recently-released 2017 Infrastructure Report Card from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), which gave America’s public school infrastructure a D+.
To make a bad story worse, that’s the same rating the ASCE gave the nation’s infrastructure system. And you’ve heard those horror stories by now.
Despite President Trump’s calls for $1 trillion in national infrastructure improvement, it’s unclear how much help, if any, the nation’s schools stand to receive from the plan. But chances are, it won’t be enough. As the ASCE report points out, “The federal government contributes little to no funding for the nation’s K-12 educational facilities.”
Schools need an additional $38 billion to close the funding gap that would help make necessary improvements, the report finds.
A combination of tight state and local budgets and a lack of federal funding and other help make it virtually impossible for most school districts to effectively upgrade aging buildings and other facilities. And, as too many school leaders already know, asking cash-strapped communities to foot the bill via tax increases, bonds, or levies poses its own challenges.
The need for better school facilities is made even more urgent by increased competition from alternative schools that aim to lure students away from public education.
Looking to improve the quality of your school buildings and facilities? Here’s three steps—based on findings in the report—that your district can take to make infrastructure a priority.
1. Gather more data
Thanks to this study and others like it, we know, broadly speaking, what kind of shape our public school buildings are in.
More than half of America’s 100,000 public school buildings need improvement to reach a “good” condition, reports ASCE. Nearly a quarter of school facilities were rated “fair” or “poor” under government standards. It doesn’t help that student population is expected to grow by 3 percent over the next decade.
At the local level, data on school conditions are harder to pin down.
“State and local governments are plagued by a lack of comprehensive data on public school infrastructure as they seek to fund, plan, construct, and maintain quality school facilities,” the report states, asserting that districts must do more to assess building integrity and understand costs associated with improvements.
As you begin to gather data, remember that community feedback is an important measure of your schools’ conditions. A school-wide survey, for example, can go a long toward understanding your needs.
2. Develop a solid infrastructure plan
Forty percent of U.S. schools don’t have long-term facilities plans, according to ASCE.
Obviously, making the case for facilities upgrades only works when your community can see how those improvements fit into your broader plan.
As the ASCE report points out: regular, ongoing, incremental maintenance upgrades can save schools time and money by preventing the need for major overhauls.
That’s why it’s important to include facilities improvements in your overall strategic planning. Make sure your infrastructure road map is informed by community feedback and recognizes community members’ priorities and concerns.
3. Make upgrades about more than education
Everyone supports the idea that schools should provide a high-quality education. But when it comes to building upgrades, many community members—especially those without students in the school system—don’t feel as strongly about the connection between facilities and learning. These people need to recognize the other important functions that school buildings serve.
The ASCE report reminds us that schools provide integral services beyond education:
“In many instances, school buildings also serve communities as emergency shelters during man-made or natural disasters…Many schools require upgrades to effectively fulfill this important community purpose, including windows that can withstand high winds, structures designed to survive earthquakes, and rooms specifically designed as shelters from tornados.”
School facilities also serve as community hubs, especially in low-income communities. These facilities might be used, for example, to provide medical and psychological support for community members, food programs, adult education classes, and more.
What steps are you taking to prioritize infrastructure improvements in your district? Tell us in the comments.
Want more ideas about how to get support for your next big facilities upgrade? Read How to pass your next bond measure.