USGBC: Neglected Schools Pose Dire Health Risks

USGBC: Neglected Schools Pose Dire Health Risks 

Gary, Indiana: Federal inspectors tour a typical school in disrepair in one of the nation's poorest cities. 

Gary, Indiana: Federal inspectors tour a typical school in disrepair in one of the nation's poorest cities. 

New report projects $46B annual Funding deficit


by ROB McMANAMY | March 28, 2016

Healthy buildings, healthy minds...

That link now seems every bit as solid as the cause and effect relationship between heart-healthy eating and healthy bodies. But knowing how to create the ideal learning environment for kids both rich and poor, and having the ability and the will to do so are all very different things.

Prior to joining BuiltWorlds, I had the pleasure of spending five exhausting months as a custodial manager for a vendor to Chicago Public Schools. (Hey, we all have our bucket lists!) In that short, but intense period, overseeing custodial cleaning in just 16 of the city's 600-plus schools, I saw up close how the physical state of aging facilities serving some of the poorest residents of one of our nation's largest cities, is... well... even worse than you might think. And the principals, teachers, building engineers and custodians (those left behind after the annual cost-cutting layoffs) barely have enough resources to maintain the status quo, much less actually improve any conditions. Needless to say, it was an eye-opening experience.

And, as it turns out, that problem is certainly not limited to Chicago.

On the contrary, a new national study released last week, State of Our Schools: America's K-12 Facilities — co-authored by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the Center for Green Schools, the 21st Century School Fund, and the National Council on School Facilities — claims that 47 of the 50 U.S. states now face a combined, projected shortfall of $46 billion per year in school funding, despite significant efforts on the part of local communities across the U.S.

USGBC CEO Fedrizzi

USGBC CEO Fedrizzi

“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 USGBC's Rick Fedrizzi, the group's CEO and founding chairman. “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 well-being," he added. "U.S. public school infrastructure is funded through a system that is inequitably affecting our nation’s students, and this has to change.”

The new report, which USGBC calls "groundbreaking", features an in-depth, 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. It also proposes recommendations for investments, innovations and reforms to improve learning environments for children in all U.S. public schools.

Comparing historic spending levels to the investment needed to maintain today’s school building inventory, the data finds a projected gap of $46 billion that must be made up to provide healthy, safe, and adequate school facilities for K-12 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 varies widely. Often, local school districts bear the heaviest burden in making the investments needed to build and improve schools. When school districts cannot afford such investments, however, 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 (MA, WY, CT, OH, KY, and HI) pay for all, or nearly all, of the capital construction costs for schools in their state, while 12 (ID, IN, LA, MI, MO, NE, NV, OK, OR, SD, TN, WI) provide zero direct support to districts for capital construction responsibilities. In the remaining 32 states, the levels of 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,” observed report author Mary Filardo, executive director, 21st Century School Fund.

The report highlights the need for better facilities information at the local, state and national levels. It has been more than 20 years since the federal government completed a comprehensive assessment of school facilities. At that 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.

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
— Rachel Gutter, Center for Green Schools
CGS director Gutter

CGS director Gutter

“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, 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.”

The State of Our Schools report identifies four key strategies for addressing the structural deficits in the K–12 public education infrastructure:

  1. Share the data - Understand public school facilities conditions and provide communities access to accurate data about school facilities;
  2. Engage in facilities planning using best practices from across the country and support local communities in proposing creative and practical plans to improve such facilities;
  3. Support new public funding to provide what is needed to build and maintain adequate and equitable school facilities;
  4. 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, visit

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