The nation is spending about $46 billion less than what it needs to keep up its school buildings, according to a report Wednesday that pointed out disparities in state support for infrastructure.
The report by a trio of school facilities groups said the country needs to keep better track of the state of its schools and find new funding sources for their upkeep so that local districts that now bear the heaviest funding burdens don't have to divert money from instruction.
"U.S. public school infrastructure is funded through a system that is inequitably affecting our nation's students and this has to change," said Rick Fedrizzi, chief executive officer of the U.S. Green Buildings Council, which released the report along with the 21st Century School Fund and National Council on School Facilities.
The report compared historic spending levels to the estimated investment needed to maintain buildings going forward and found a $46 billion gap, the extent of which varies by state. Only Texas, Florida and Georgia's average spending was found to be adequate.
The federal government provides almost no capital construction funding, the report said, and the levels of state support vary greatly, leaving local districts to shoulder most of the infrastructure expenses. For poorer districts that have to repair older buildings more frequently, it can mean diverting money away from instructional materials and programming, the authors said.
"Without new funding models, schools in low-income areas will be unable to meet even the most basic standards for health and safety," said Rachel Gutter, director of the Center for Green Schools at the Green Buildings Council. "Federal, state and local level stakeholders — from senators to state legislators to superintendents, from community leaders to impact investors — must collaborate to solve this problem."
There are 100,000 K-12 public schools in the United States. They represent the largest public building sector in the United States and the second-largest category of public infrastructure investment, the report said, yet it has been 20 years since the government completed a comprehensive assessment of the state of school buildings.
The issue has gained recent attention in Detroit, where complaints of rodents, mold and other problems contributed to teacher sick-outs that temporarily closed dozens of buildings in January.