Mike Kennedy

Editor's Focus October 2021

Oct. 4, 2021

It took the crisis of a deadly pandemic to make it happen, but the federal government has been providing badly needed funds to the nation’s school districts.

Since Covid-19 forced nearly every U.S. school to shut down in March 2020, Congress has passed three stimulus bills that allocated a total of $190 billion to the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency relief fund.

Buy the emergency help from federal coffers doesn’t change the fact that for local public schools, money from Uncle Sam is hard to come by. Only about 8% of funding for public elementary schools.

When it comes to funding for building or upgrading public school facilities, federal involvement is even harder to find. From fiscal 2009 to 2019, federal funding for public school facilities accounted for 1.3% of school districts’ construction capital outlay--$7.1 billion, compared with $141 billion from state sources and $501 billion from local sources, according to the 2021 State of our School report issued recently by a consortium of education groups. (Read an article about the report on page 16.)

Why doesn’t the federal government pony up more for school construction? The reason typically put forth is that the nation has a long history of local control of schools, and there may be fears that federal involvement may become federal interference.

Although there were debates about how much should be included, for the most part there was wide agreement that federal pandemic funding was necessary to keep schools operating effectively.

But I would argue—and the State of our Schools report appears to have the numbers to back it up—that the state of school facilities in the United States is also a crisis—not one with immediate repercussions like Covid-19, but a more insidious threat to the long-term health of public schools.

Federal support could help level the playing field and enable schools in poor urban and rural areas to provide modern facilities they otherwise couldn’t afford. As it stands now, the gap between the funding needed and the funding available is making it harder for schools to adequately maintain their facilities and provide students with a suitable learning environment.

American School & University has long advocated for improving education facilities under the belief that the higher-quality school buildings will lead to a more appealing environment and better student performance.

The new State of the Schools report provides more evidence that a comprehensive plan to enhance the quality of U.S. school facilities is overdue.

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