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Editor's Note (The View From Here)

The Condition of our Public School Facilities

For the first time since 1999, a national survey was completed on the condition of public school facilities. NCES, in the Institute of Education Sciences, conducted this survey in spring 2013 using the Fast Response Survey System (FRSS). The survey was mailed to approximately 1,800 public school districts in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The unweighted survey response rate was 90 percent. The survey weights were adjusted for questionnaire non-response and the data were then weighted to yield national estimates that represent all eligible public schools in the United States. The findings of this survey are based on self-reported data from public schools and school districts.

This year’s survey reported results based on permanent buildings as well as portable (temporary) buildings. Ninety-nine percent of schools had permanent buildings. The good news is that permanent building systems/features scored better. The bad news is that 31 percent of our schools had portable (temporary) buildings that didn’t score nearly as well. Based on the survey response, it appears that the overall condition of permanent buildings in three-quarters of our schools was rated excellent (20 percent) or good (56 percent). Once schools with portable buildings (nearly a third of our schools) were added to the mix, the scores changed from 20-percent excellent to six-percent excellent, from 56-percent good to 49-percent good. Going from excellent/good to fair/poor the percentages changed on everything from roofing, floors and foundations, ventilation/filtration systems, to emergency management, life-safety features and security systems.

Based on survey responses, 53 percent of public schools needed to spend money on repairs, renovations and modernizations to put the schools’ onsite buildings in good overall condition. The total amount needed was estimated to be approximately $197 billion, and the average dollar amount for schools needing to spend money was about $4.5 million per school. In the 1999 report, three-quarters of schools reported needing to spend some money on repairs, renovations and modernizations to put the school’s onsite buildings into good overall condition. The total amount needed by schools was estimated to be approximately $127 billion, about $2.2 million per school.

It appears we have made some progress on the overall condition of our schools, but the effect of “pay me now or pay me later” is also evident. More schools are in better condition, but the dollars needed to bring them up to “good” has more than doubled. The question — is that progress?

This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of School Planning & Management.

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