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A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

The Urgent National Need for School Construction and Modernization

Communities across the country are struggling to address critical needs to renovate existing schools and build new ones. School construction and modernization are necessary to address urgent safety and facility needs, to accommodate rising student enrollments, to help reduce class sizes, to make sure schools are accessible to all students, and to modernize buildings so they are well-equipped for the 21st century.

Delayed Repairs Catch Up with America's Schools

In 1995, the GAO released a report that documented the condition of America's schools. The cost to bring the nation's schools into overall good condition was estimated at $112 billion. According to the recent Baby Boom Echo Report, an additional 2,400 new public schools will be needed by 2003 to accommodate rising enrollments and to relieve overcrowding, and thousands more will be needed in later years. [NCES data, 1999]

Repairs and Renovations:

  • 40 percent of America's schools reported needing $36 billion to repair or replace building features such as a roof or plumbing.
  • Two-thirds of America's schools reported needing $11 billion over a three-year period for repairs and renovations dealing with accessibility and health and safety problems such as the removal of asbestos, lead in water or paint, materials in underground storage tanks, and radon.
  • 50 percent of America's schools reported unsatisfactory environmental conditions such as poor ventilation, heating or lighting problems, or poor physical security. [School Facilities: The Condition of America's Schools, GAO Report HEHS-95-61, February, 1995]

Replacement or Extensive Repairs:

  • Condition of America's Public School Facilities: 1999
    The report published by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) provides national data about the condition of public schools in 1999 based on a survey conducted using the NCES Fast Response Survey System (FRSS). The FRSS results based on a nationally representative sample indicate that even though most school facilities are in good condition, many are in less than adequate condition, and 3.5 million children attend schools where at least one building is non-operational or significantly substandard. The report provides information about the condition of school facilities, school plans for renovations, the age of public schools, and overcrowding.
  • One third of America's schools needed extensive repair and building replacements at a cost of $65 billion. These schools throughout the nation housed about 14 million students. [School Facilities: The Condition of America's Schools, GAO Report HEHS-95-61, February, 1995]
  • The demand for Internet services in our schools is at an all-time high. However, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (February 2000), only 39% of classrooms in our poorest schools (compared to 74% of low-poverty schools) have Internet access.
  • In addition, the National Center for Education Statistics reported in 1999 that America's schools are wearing out. The average public school in America is 42 years old, and school buildings begin rapid deterioration after 40 years. [How Old Are America's Schools?, National Center for Education Statistics, January, 1999.]

Enrollments Are Rising

In August of 1999, the Department of Education released a Back to School Special Report on the Baby Boom Echo entitled No End in Sight. Its findings included:

  • A record 53.2 million children are enrolled in elementary and secondary schools today. This number will reach 54.2 million by 2009.
  • Unlike at the end of the "baby boom" of the 1950s and 1960s, when the number of births dropped, in the early 1970s, the number of births is not projected to fall off, but to increase slowly for the next 10 years. Long-range projections by the U.S. Bureau of the Census indicate that the number of births will continue to rise thereafter, from 4.2 million in 2009 to 4.8 million in 2028.

School Conditions Have an Impact on Student Achievement

A growing body of research has linked student achievement and behavior to the physical building conditions and overcrowding. [Impact of Inadequate School Facilities on Student Learning] For example:

  • A study of overcrowded schools in New York City found that students in such schools scored significantly lower on both mathematics and reading exams than did similar students in underused schools. In addition, students and teachers in overcrowded schools agreed, when asked, that overcrowding harms both classroom activities and instructional techniques. [Rivera-Batiz and Marti, 1995]
  • Another study of high schools in rural Virginia examined the relationship between building condition and student achievement. The study found that student scores on achievement tests were up to 5 percentile points lower in buildings with lower quality ratings, after adjusting for socioeconomic status. Lower achievement was associated with specific building condition factors such as substandard science facilities, air conditioning, classroom furniture, more graffiti, and noisy external environments. [Cash, 1993]
  • A study in the District of Columbia found that students in school buildings that were in poor condition had achievement 11 percent below students in schools in excellent condition and six percent below students in schools that were in fair condition. [Edwards, 1991]

An Example of A School in Need of Repairs and Renovations

Huntington Beach Union High School District, California (total of nine schools)
(Source: Huntington Beach School District web page)

  • Aging Schools: Some of the schools in this district are as much as 75 years old. Major problems include deteriorated sewer systems, broken pipes, termite infestation, dry rot and worn-out electrical systems, all due to the extreme use caused by age.
  • Lack of safety compliance: Many of the schools do not meet California earthquake standards as well as city building codes.
  • Leaking Roofs: Flooding has caused extensive damage to computers and other equipment. As well, floors in portable classrooms are rotted due to water damage from leaky roofs.
  • Sinking Buildings: Many of the schools are in need of major repairs or replacement because the buildings are actually sinking into the ground.
  • Faulty electrical connections: Fire alarms and public address systems often do not work in emergency situations. This lack of electrical power sometimes makes it impossible to run classroom computers.


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Last Updated -- June 27, 2000 (pjk)