Every school day, nearly 50 million K-12 students and 6 million adults occupy close to 100,000 public school buildings on an estimated two million acres of land. While state and local governments make significant investment in public K-12 schools infrastructure and schools play important civic, educational, and public safety roles in communities, the nation continues to underinvest in school facilities, leaving an estimated $38 billion annual gap. As a result, 24% of public school buildings were rated as being in fair or poor condition. While there have been a number of insightful reports in recent years, 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.
Every school day, nearly 50 million K-12 students and 6 million adults occupy close to 100,000 public school buildings on an estimated two million acres of land. The student population increased by nearly five million between 1994 and 2013, requiring an additional 13,000 K-12 schools. Enrollment is projected to increase by 3% between the 2013-2014 and 2025-26 academic years – rising from 50 million to 51.4 million students. State and local governments face a constant challenge to keep up with operations and maintenance and the need for new construction, in addition to accommodating improved health and safety standards, stronger accessibility requirements, and new technology.
School funding varies widely by state. Five states pay for nearly all of their school districts’ capital costs, 12 states provide no direct support for districts for capital construction responsibilities, and in the remaining 33 states, the levels of support vary greatly. The federal government contributes little to no funding for the nation’s K-12 educational facilities.
In many instances school buildings also serve communities as emergency shelters during man-made or natural disasters. This secondary function has a significant role in public health, safety, and welfare, and requires facilities that are maintained to function in emergencies and resilient to quickly recover. 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.
Raising the Grades
Solutions that Work Now
Governments at every level should regularly assess the needs of their public school facilities and publish this data.
Maximize flexibility for states to use funds for a variety of projects that should include greening and energy efficiency upgrades, asbestos abatement and removal, improvements to after-school facilities and community spaces, and modifications to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Continue to encourage school districts to adopt regular, comprehensive major maintenance, renewal, and construction programs, and implement preventative maintenance programs to extend the life of school facilities.
Expand federal and state tax credits and matching funds to support increased use of school construction bonds and simplify the process for local school districts to obtain facility construction financing for improvements and modernizations.
Explore alternative financing, including lease financing, as well as ownership and use arrangements, to facilitate school construction projects.
Develop capital planning frameworks that can be nimble and responsive to changing technologies and changing demographics, to optimize learning environments and consider the holistic needs of the community.