A Back to School Special Report on the Baby Boom Echo: No End in Sight (August 19, 1999)
The Baby Boom Echo:
No End in Sight
School Construction Still Lags Behind
Between 1990 and 1994 school construction in this nation remained essentially flat. Hit hard by the economic recession at the beginning of the decade, many school districts delayed building new schools and even delayed basic maintenance despite rising enrollment. School districts also faced stiff opposition from voters in passing school bonds. In 1991, half of all school bonds were defeated.
According to the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities, in 1990 school construction contracts totaled $9.5 billion. By 1994, the amount of school construction contracts had increased only slightly to $11.9 billion. During that same period of time, an additional 2.8 million children entered our nation's public school system.
In a landmark 1995 report, School Facilities: Condition of America's Schools, the General Accounting Office (GAO) estimated that a total of $112 billion was needed to repair and modernize this nation's schools. (Figure 13). The report stated,
"One third of all schools need extensive repair or replacement. Nearly 60 percent of schools have at least one major building problem, and more than half have inadequate environmental conditions."
School construction finally began to pick up in 1995. Total contract awards for school construction increased from $14 billion in 1995 to $18 billion in 1998. The total number of school construction contracts increased from 7,185 in 1995 to 8,215 in 1998. Voters have increased their support for school bonds as well, with the percentage of schools bonds passing rising from 50 percent in 1991 to 67 percent in 1998.
In 1998, primary school construction accounted for 49 percent of these contracts; middle and junior high schools for 17.3 percent; senior high schools for 29.3 percent; and vocational schools for 4.4 percent. Four large states--Texas ($1.9 billion), California ($1.3 billion), Florida ($1.1 billion) and New York ($1.1 billion)--lead the nation in spending to repair, modernize and build schools.
The National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities estimates that $19.5 billion will be spent in 1999 to build and modernize our nation's schools. Despite this recent spurt, school construction and modernization badly lags behind other efforts to improve our nation's infrastructure. The average age of a public school building is 42 years old and school buildings begin rapid deterioration after 40 years. In 1998, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave school modernization and construction the lowest grade possible--an "F"--in its Report Card for America's Infrastructure.
While significant progress has been made in giving our nation's schools increased access to the Internet, with close to 90 percent of all schools connected in 1998 compared to just 30 percent in 1994, wiring classrooms still lags behind. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers 1998 report, "Forty-six percent lack basic wiring to support computer systems."
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Last Updated -- August 19, 1999, (smj)