Parade Magazine published an excellent report by Barry Yeoman about the sad state of the nation’s school facilities this past weekend. It’s a surprisingly detailed look at a deficit—the backlog in school maintenance and repair—with much bigger consequences for our children than the federal budget deficit. By some estimates, the nation would have to spend $271 billion just to bring the public schools up to a decent state of repair, while a state of world class excellence would require investments several times larger.
All of the talk about testing our way to educational excellence has only diverted attention and funding from the desperate state of the nation’s school buildings and grounds. Crumbling, antiquated facilities are, as Yeoman makes clear, hostile to learning and depressing to the children and teachers who spend so much of their lives there.
State and local governments too often look the other way or blame teachers for the educational shortcomings of the students. Education seems to be the place where many people don’t believe “you get what you pay for.”
Today, more than 14 million children attend class in deteriorating facilities; the average U.S. public school is over 40 years old. In the worst of them, sewage backs up into halls and classrooms, rain pours through leaky roofs and ruins computers and books, and sinks are off the walls in the bathrooms. As Mary Filardo, CEO of the 21st Century School Fund, puts it, they are “unhealthy, unsafe, depressing places.”
It doesn’t have to be that way, and with Filardo’s leadership and encouragement, the Obama administration and key members of Congress are working to close this investment deficit. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), and dozens of cosponsors have introduced legislation (Fix America’s Schools Today, or FAST) to provide $30 billion a year to repair and renovate school facilities, bring them up to code, and make important energy-saving improvements. These funds would not just improve the health and safety and learning environments of millions of students and teachers, they would also employ 300,000 people to do construction and maintenance work. FAST would have very positive effects on the labor market and the economy.
I hope many of Parade’s 32 million readers are inspired by Yeoman’s article to call or write their senators and congressmen to get their support for FAST. The U.S. is years behind in making these investments, but much better late than never.