Shortchanging Facilities

Logic dictates that as buildings age, more upkeep is required to ensure an optimal learning environment. But logic doesn't always rule, especially at schools and universities struggling with limited financial resources.

As the nation's education infrastructure ages, maintenance and operations funding remains shortchanged — continuing a downward trend of schools spending less on maintaining facilities.

According to American School & University's 35th annual Maintenance and Operations Cost Study (see p. 25), spending by school districts on M&O as a percentage of total budget hovers around historic lows. At 7.58 percent, the amount pales compared with the 13 percent of budget spent 20 years ago when the average age of buildings was much younger.

The condition of education facilities is getting renewed emphasis, especially as No Child Left Behind focuses more attention on test scores. For example:

  • In Oregon, federal auditors have been asked to fund a study to determine if students at schools in disrepair have the same opportunities for success as those in newer facilities.

  • A bill in Idaho requires the state to come up with more than $5 million to pay for school maintenance next year, as well as create a $25 million revolving loan fund to help fix unsafe or insufficient schools.

  • In Michigan, legislation is planned to address disparities in facilities in wealthy areas and those in poorer districts.

The link between the physical condition of schools and learning/achievement has been documented many times. Yet, sufficient funding to operate, maintain and improve learning environments is elusive.

If we are serious about improving education, we must ensure that the facilities where children learn receive the funding and care necessary to allow academic excellence to flourish.

SCORECARD

7.58

Median percentage amount of total budget spent on maintenance and operations by school districts in the 2005-06 academic year.

11

Median percentage amount of total budget spent on maintenance and operations by colleges in the 2005-06 school year.

25,173

Square footage maintained per full-time custodial worker at school districts.

100,720

Square footage maintained per full-time maintenance worker at school districts.

14.6

Percentage of school districts contracting out maintenance and operations services.

26

Percentage of four-year colleges contracting out maintenance and operations services (27 percent at two-year colleges).

Source: American School & University's 35thannual School Maintenance and Operations Cost Study and 12th annual College Maintenance and Operations Cost Study.

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