School Facilities Q & A
What Is The Problem?
The Government Accountability Office spelled it out starkly in its 1997 report.
Upwards of 14 million children attend public school each day in severely dilapidated classrooms.
More than 19 million are denied access to modern computers and other technology because their schools lack basic electrical wiring.
Of 80,000 schools in the U.S., at least one third are in need of extensive repair or replacement.
In nine states, more than 65% of the schools had inadequate buildings.
About 60% of schools nationwide, many in otherwise adequate condition, need repairs to roofs, framing, foundations, floors, windows, plumbing and heating, venting and air conditioning, electric lighting and life safety codes. More than 60% of Americas schools are reaching the end of their predicted life span of 20 to 30 years. Deferred maintenance has compounded the problem.
At least two thirds of the 80,000 public schools have environmental problems: presence of asbestos, lead in water or paint, leaking underground storage tanks or radon or they lack noise control and physical security. Older schools were not built with environmental safeguards considered essential today. At the time, asbestos and lead paint were standard building materials. Air conditioning was nonexistent.
Aren't The States Fixing The Schools That Need Fixing?
State governments are often not able to finance the repairs and upgrades of our crumbling schools. According to the GAO, 27 states have no recent information on the condition of their schools. Only 15 states have a system in place for keeping track.
Isn't This Mostly A Problem in Our Largest Cities?
Half of the 80,000 public elementary and secondary schools are located in small towns and rural areas.
What Is Being Done Locally?
Many communities are working very hard and with innovation to try to resolve their problems. For example, the people of Charles County, Virginia, set up a computer company which devoted its profits to school rehabilitation. Wray, Colorado, had massive community effort to build a new school/community center through local initiative.
But in rural America, such stories as these are exceptions, not the rule. Many communities, through loss of population and jobs and reduced economies, simply cannot tackle public school facility problems on their own. Our schools are not deteriorating because parents have lost interest. The problem exists because so many communities do not have the resources to rebuild their schools.
How Are We Going to Fix The Problem?
Greater federal help is necessary. The Qualified Zone Academy Bond Program and USDA's Community Facilities Program provide financing for schools. See descriptions of these programs and links to these programs on OCRE's website.
Organizations Concerned about Rural Education supports legislation to provide interest-free financing of school modernization and construction such as the QZAB program; full funding of the No Child Left Behind law; and greater funding of all education programs.
Would Federal Dollars Undermine Community Control?
The QZAB program leaves control entirely in the hands of states and localities. School districts borrow the money and repay it to private borrowers. The federal role is merely to provide tax credits to those who buy the bonds.
How Does the Public Feel About This Issue?
Eight in ten voters support a national policy directed at rebuilding the country's aging schools, say they believe the environment in the classroom directly affects student performance, and would support a significant federal role in rebuilding and maintaining public schools.
The most recent survey of public opinion on this issue was conducted by Opinion Dynamics Corporation in June 2002 on behalf of Rebuild America's Schools. Nearly three in four voters think that repairing or modernizing out-of-date public schools would address the problem of classroom overcrowding and the need to reduce class size. Voters agree by 85-90 percent that schools must be repaired or modernized to meet safe air quality and other health and safety standards, and to make classrooms safer and more secure for children.
What Is OCRE?
OCRE is one of the largest coalitions ever assembled to focus on a single rural issue. A listing of OCREs members and purpose is found in the coalition section of this website.