A new report from USGBC has found that the nation faces a projected annual shortfall of $46 billion in school funding despite significant effort on the part of local communities. The finding is part of The State of Our Schools: America’s K-12 Facilities report, released by the Center for Green Schools at the USGBC, the 21st Century School Fund, and the National Council on School Facilities.

“One out of every six people in the U.S. spends each day in a K-12 public school classroom, yet there is very little oversight over America’s public school buildings,” said Rick Fedrizzi, CEO and founding chair of USGBC. “It is totally unacceptable that there are millions of students across the country who are learning in dilapidated, obsolete, and unhealthy facilities that pose obstacles to their learning and overall wellbeing. U.S. public school infrastructure is funded through a system that is inequitably affecting our nation’s students and this has to change.”

The report features a state-by-state analysis of investment in school infrastructure and focuses on 20 years of school facility investment nationwide, as well as funding needed moving forward to make up for annual investment shortfalls for essential repairs and upgrades. The report also proposes recommendations for investments, innovations, and reforms to improve learning environments for children in all U.S. public schools.

“The data on funding school infrastructure paints a clear picture of the importance of a national conversation regarding the way improvements are funded. The conversation surrounding student achievement must also include a component addressing the places where our children learn,” said Mike Rowland, president of the National Council on School Facilities and director of Facilities Services for the Georgia Department of Education.  

The report compares historic spending levels to the investment that will be needed moving forward to maintain today’s school building inventory. Estimated facilities investment requirements are based on building industry best practice standards that are adapted to public school infrastructure. This comparison reveals a projected gap of $46 billion that the nation must overcome to provide healthy, safe, and adequate school facilities for children. Only three states’ average spending levels meet or exceed the standards for investment: Texas, Florida, and Georgia.

The analysis found that the federal government provides almost no capital construction funding for school facilities, and state support for school facilities varies widely. Local school districts bear the heaviest burden in making the investments needed to build and improve school facilities. When school districts cannot afford to make these significant investments, they are often forced to make more frequent building repairs from their operating funds — the same budget that pays for teacher salaries, instructional materials, and general programming.

Currently, six states (Massachusetts, Wyoming, Connecticut, Ohio, Kentucky, and Hawaii) pay for all or nearly all of the capital construction costs for schools in their state, while 12 states (Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wisconsin) provide no direct support to districts for capital construction responsibilities. In the remaining 32 states, the levels of state support vary greatly, and the federal government contributes almost nothing to capital construction to help alleviate disparities.

“Even though K-12 schools are the largest public building sector in the U.S. and represent the second largest category of public infrastructure investment, there is no current dataset at a national level and many states could not report on the size of their public school inventory,” said Mary Filardo, author of the report and executive director of 21st Century School Fund.

The report highlights the need for better facilities information at the local, state, and national levels. According to USGBC, it has been more than 20 years since the federal government completed a comprehensive assessment of school facilities. At the time, more than half of U.S. schools had indoor air quality issues, and more than 15,000 schools were circulating air deemed unfit to breathe.

“The way we fund school infrastructure means that communities and states are working largely on their own to provide high-quality facilities. 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 USGBC. “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.”

Overall, the report found that communities have been doing their best to address the conditions of their schools but are in need of additional support and more equitable funding. The State of Our Schools report identifies four key strategies for addressing the structural deficits in the K–12 public education infrastructure:

• Understand public school facilities conditions and provide communities access to accurate data about school facilities.

• Engage in education facilities planning using best practices from across the country, and support local communities in proposing creative and practical plans to improve their public school facilities.

• Support new public funding to provide what is needed to build and maintain adequate and equitable school facilities.

• Leverage public and private resources to extend a community’s investments, utilizing a new generation of structures, funding streams, and partnerships.

To download the full report and to find out the conditions of a local school district, visit www.stateofourschools.org.