The Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) today released its first “State of our Schools” report, highlighting the critical need to modernize school facilities to meet current health, safety and educational standards.
The report, featuring a foreword by former President Bill Clinton, states that schools are currently facing a $271 billion deferred maintenance bill just to bring the buildings up to working order, approximately $5,450 per student. The USGBC report also estimates that the cost to both bring schools into good repair and address modernization needs is $542 billion over the next 10 years for Pre-K-12 school buildings.
The report pinpoints health and safety issues such as air quality, and addresses stressors that affect student health and performance, including acoustics, thermal comfort and levels of daylight:
A review of an array of studies found that air quality, acoustics, levels of thermal comfort and levels of daylight affect the stress levels, health and well-being of occupants in schools. Public health research has shown that respiratory health and air pollutants are strongly related. The understanding of the direct connection between indoor air quality and Sick Building Syndrome has also become well-established.
The report also touches on energy efficiency, and recommends reporting utility and maintenance data separately.
“Every day we let pass without addressing inefficient energy practices, poor indoor air quality, and other problems associated with unhealthy learning environments, we are passing up tremendous opportunities,” wrote Clinton in his forward. “Today, school districts can make significant infrastructure improvements with little to no upfront cost to their communities—improvements that will free up critical dollars for more teachers, computers, or textbooks. And the schools that undergo retrofits will be improving their learning spaces while creating jobs and supporting local economies.”
The last comprehensive report on America’s school facilities was conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 1995 and indicated that 15,000 U.S. schools were circulating air that at the time was deemed unfit to breathe. The USGBC report calls on the GAO to conduct an updated survey on the condition of America’s schools in order to paint a more complete picture of the scale and scope of today’s needs.
The Center for Green Schools at USGBC is urging the GAO to commission another survey on the condition of America’s schools, with support from 24 organizations, including the 21st Century School Fund, the American Federation of Teachers, the American Lung Association, the National Education Association (NEA) and the National PTA, among others.
Key recommendations from the report include:
• Expand the Common Core of Data (a set of academic expectations collected annually by the National Center for Education Statistics that define the knowledge and skills all students should master by the end of each grade level) to include school level data on building age, building size and site size.
• Improve the current fiscal reporting of school district facility maintenance and operations data to the National Center for Education Statistics so that utility and maintenance expenditures are collected separately.
• Improve the collection of capital outlay data from school districts to include identification of the source of capital outlay funding and distinctions between capital outlay categories for new construction and for existing facilities.
• Provide financial and technical assistance to states from the U.S. Department of Education to incorporate facility data in their state longitudinal education data systems.
• Mandate a GAO facility condition survey take place every 10 years, with the next one beginning immediately.
Visit centerforgreenschools.org/stateofschools to download the full report.