The Amerian Society of Civil Engineers recently rated America's public schools at D+ on the nations Infrastructure Report Card due to deplorable school conditions.
Leaking ceilings, broken HVAC systems, cockroach infestations: these are just some of the poor school conditions plaguing America’s schools today. Although keeping facilities in good repair is an ongoing struggle, some say that it’s reaching a critical stage as the average school building approaches 50 years old. It’s so serious, the American Society of Civil Engineers recently gave the country’s 100,000 school buildings a D+ on its Infrastructure Report Card.
Deteriorating school conditions aren’t just a cosmetic issue. The National Bureau of Economic Research found that students tend to get lower grades when they’re too hot, and it’s long been known that anger, aggression, and hostility increase as the thermometer rises. Educators have to spend more time helping kids cool down, literally and figuratively, to meet education standards and behavior expectations.
Perhaps more alarming, spending seven or more hours a day in a dilapidated building can be harmful to your health. Allergies are triggered by dust, mold, and insect droppings, contributing to more sick days taken by staff and students alike. Missed instruction hours put kids behind, and parents must sacrifice income when they have to stay home to care for children who got sick or had classes canceled due to inadequate school building conditions.
Children with asthma struggle particularly hard to breathe when the surrounding air becomes too hot. During a recent California heat wave, students reported headaches and nosebleeds, blaming them on stifled air flow exacerbated by rolling blackouts and an inefficient power grid. Although the state received billions of taxpayer dollars to improve HVAC systems during the COVID-19 pandemic, many districts chose to use the funds on other things.
The pandemic should have driven home the importance of improving ventilation in America’s schools, but districts in many states languished on using earmarked funds to improve school conditions. President Biden’s Build Back Better Act gave public schools $500 million to upgrade facilities to be more energy- and cost-efficient but did little to ensure that the schools followed through. Denver public schools jumped at the opportunity for better ventilation, installing new air quality sensors in every school building over the 2022 summer break.
A recent article by CNN says that 14 public schools in Baltimore still lack air conditioning. That’s a drastic improvement from five years ago when 75 of the city’s schools lacked a/c, but it’s hard to fathom even one school still lacks proper temperature control in 2022. Baltimore has been addressing their school condition problems one building at a time and expects six of the 14 to have air conditioning within the next 24 months.
The CNN piece also mentions Joseph G. Pyne Arts Magnet School in Lowell, Massachusetts. Their most pressing school condition is dirty or rusty water leaks turning the ceiling various shades of brown. Sometimes after a rain, the ceiling tiles actually bow from the weight of the water behind them.
Back in California, at Freedom High in Oakley, students are afraid to eat lunch due to the building’s roach infestation. Some of the bugs measure two inches in length and occupy most areas of the school. The unsanitary situation persists even though superintendent, Eric Volta, said, “We fog, we spray, we bait, we trap.”
Most districts are doing what they can to improve school conditions, but as the state of American education remains underfunded, it’s a slow fix. If you’re interested in seeing what school conditions are like in your state, use this interactive tool on the NCSF website. Parents are encouraged to press lawmakers and education authorities to make school facility upgrades a budgetary priority.