Civil Engineers Give Schools Another D
Crowded schools and deteriorating school facilities contribute significantly to the erosion of the quality of American life, according to an analysis by the American Society of Civil Engineers. In its latest evaluation of 12 categories of infrastructure, the civil engineers gave a grade of D to schools and to the nation's overall infrastructure.
It's uncertain, the report said, whether schools can handle a growing enrollment and the smaller class sizes required by the No Child Left Behind Act. Public school enrollment in school year 2003-04 was 48.2 million, up by 394,000 from the year before. Estimates of the funds needed to bring school facilities to good condition range from a low of $127 billion to a high of $268 billion.
The ASCE report said $1.6 trillion should be spent over the next five years to alleviate potential problems with the nation's infrastructure. "Americans are spending more time stuck in traffic and less time at home with their families," William Henry, ASCE president, said. ASCE issue its first "report card" in 2001.
The first step in addressing the condition of the nation's schools is a realistic, ongoing needs evaluation, the report declares. The latest Department of Education assessment of needs was in its publication, "Condition of America's Public School Facilities: 1999." While school operations and facilities are primarily state and local conerns, their performance is an issue of national importance, the report said. It called for a regular update of the 1999 report.
The report concluded: "Given that children are our most precious commodity, we should accept nothing less than the best conditions for our schools. ASCE strongly believes that governments at all levels should make primary and secondary education a priority, and should provide the resources to support the necessary infrastructure."
Among ASCE's recommendations are the following:
* Expand federal tax credits to support increased use of school construction bonds;
* Continue and increase federal grants for high-poverty, high-need school districts;
* Consider direct federal funding of school construction;
* Encourage school districts to explore alternative financing; and
* Encourage school districts to adopt regular, comprehensive construction and maintenance programs.
(To read more about the ASCE Progress Report for America's Infrastructure, go to www.asce.org.)