Bridging the Gap

American politics today are fraught with partisan wrangling — and the bickering seems to be intensifying, reflecting positions at one extreme or the other with very little effort being made to find common ground.

As a so-called “happy medium” becomes more elusive, information has emerged on one issue that might help bridge this growing gap — garnering support of voters from both sides of the political spectrum.

According to a recent nationwide poll of voters asked about projects the federal government could consider spending tax dollars on, an astonishing 91 percent said that “repairing unsafe and dilapidated school buildings” was an important priority; almost two-thirds said it was “very important.”

The survey also states that more than three-quarters of voters polled said they agreed with the statement, “We are in urgent need of renovating existing school buildings.” But, nationwide, voters believe state and local governments are not doing enough to repair aging and crumbling school facilities; 11 times more voters rating state and local governments “poor” than “excellent” on the issue.

What makes this interesting is that the survey was not conducted by a single polling firm with ties to a particular political party; it was conducted by two firms — one Republican and one Democratic.

Is school infrastructure improvement an issue that can help bridge the gap and bring two increasingly disparate sides closer?

Those involved in education facilities have seen a roller-coaster effect of interest at the national level in school construction and repair — and there are no immediate signs that the issue will be looked at again seriously in the near future. But if anything, results of the poll can serve as a starting point to “reintroduce” the issue of a national focus on school facilities and learning environments.

Even with school construction spending at record levels (see p. 29), there still is a desperate need across the nation to repair and modernize a crumbling stock of inefficient, inadequate and often dangerous school facilities. Hopefully, lawmakers at all levels of government will take polls such as this one and use them as a springboard to address issues that have strong support from all voter bases.

SCORECARD

91

Percentage of voters that say, “repairing unsafe and dilapidated school buildings” is an important national priority; almost two-thirds say it is “very important.”

Source: The Tarrance Group, and Lake Snell and Perry

77

Percentage of voters that agree with the statement, “We are in urgent need of renovating existing school buildings.”

Source: The Tarrance Group, and Lake Snell and Perry

27

Percentage of voters that positively rate state and local governments' ability to repair dilapidated school buildings.

Source: The Tarrance Group, and Lake Snell and Perry

$29

Amount, in billions, spent by school districts on new, addition and retrofit construction in 2004 — $10.3 billion (35 percent) of which went toward modernizing existing buildings.

Source: AS&U's 31st annual Official Education Construction Report (p. 29)

$93

Amount, in billions, projected to be spent by school districts on new, addition and retrofit construction over the next three years (2005-07) — $23 billion (25 percent) of which will go toward renovating existing buildings.

Source: AS&U's 31st annual Official Education Construction Report (p. 29)

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