- Crumbling school buildings pose health threats to students, including lead exposure, mold and water damage, and pests, according to an article published by New America, a centrist think tank. These issues not only affect the health of students, but also contribute to negative academic outcomes and increasing absenteeism, research indicates.
- Some of these issues are being considered at the federal level: A 2014 study by the National Center for Educational Statistics indicated that 24% of schools across the nation were in fair or poor condition, while national studies released this summer revealed lead-based paint was present in half of K-12 schools tested and lead-contaminated drinking water was present in more than one-third of schools buildings tested. The Rebuild America’s Schools Act now under consideration would provide $100 billion in school infrastructure money, while other pending legislation may provide funding for early-childhood education facilities.
- School and local leaders are ultimately responsible for providing safe schools that are conducive to learning and can look for grants and other funding sources to improve conditions, the report said. Teachers and staff members can make sure facilities are clean, free from clutter and properly ventilated — though in extreme cases, teachers have gone on strike to draw attention to health hazards at their schools.
The average American school is 44 years old and hasn’t been renovated in at least 12 years, according to a 2016 joint report from the 21st Century School Fund, the National Council on School Facilities, and the Center for Green Schools.
Years of inadequate funding during the recent recession have exacerbated the problem, which is worse in low-income communities that struggle to raise funds for school maintenance and upgrades. As a result, there are often funding gaps between rich and poor districts.
In Massachusetts, the state’s current funding formula has led to a lawsuit accusing the state of violating “the students’ constitutional right to an education and the constitution’s equal rights clause by providing unequal educations to poor and rich students, and to white students compared to students of color.”
Many educators and lawmakers are looking at the Rebuild America’s Schools Act to potentially infuse $100 billion over the next 10 years into the nation's school facilities. If passed, the bill would authorize $70 billion in grants and facilitate $30 billion in school infrastructure tax credit bonds that could be used for the construction and repair of public school facilities and to expand access to high-speed broadband.