Last year, more than $20 billion worth of construction was completed for K-12 public schools. The majority of those dollars were spent on the construction of new and additional space. Only 18 percent went toward the renovation/modernization of existing school facilities. While our investment in new school facilities continues to rise, questions remain about the adequacy of our investment in existing buildings.

Concerns about the condition of our schools are not new. In the mid-1980s, President Reagan appointed a commission to study the problems of our decaying infrastructure. The first report card, "Fragile Foundations: A Report on America's Infrastructure," was the result of that commission. We scored a C, and the book was closed. Ten years later, the American Society of Civil Engineers took up the cause. Patrick Natale, P.E., F.ASCE, executive director of the ASCE, stated that their reason for developing the report card was simple.“As the experts entrusted with the responsibility of designing, building and maintaining America's infrastructure, we felt an obligation to inform the American public and our nation's decision makers about the condition of our roads, bridges, water systems and other public works.”

On March 9, the ASCE issued its third Report Card for America's Infrastructure. To develop the report, the ASCE assembled a panel of 24 of the nation’s leading civil engineers, who analyzed hundreds of studies and reports, in addition to surveying more than 2,000 engineers, to determine what was happening in the field. Fifteen categories, ranging from roads to bridges, drinking water to wastewater and energy to schools, were studied. Grades were assigned on the basis of condition and capacity, and funding vs. need. The average grade was D. Individual grades ranged from a C+ for solid waste, to a D- for drinking water, to a D for schools.

Is America’s crumbling infrastructure eroding our quality of life? ASCE President William P. Henry, P.E., F.ASCE. states, "We need to establish a comprehensive, long-term infrastructure, plan as opposed to our current `patch and pray' method to ensure a better quality of life for everyone." To remedy America's current and looming problems in the categories included in the report, ASCE estimates an investment need of $1.6 trillion through a five-year period from all levels of government and the private sector. This amount does not include estimates for infrastructure security needs. The investment needed for protecting our nation's critical infrastructure is still being defined within the Department of Homeland Security framework.

In the section on school facilities, the ASCE states,“The Federal government has not assessed the condition of America's schools since 1999, when it estimated that $127 billion was needed to bring facilities to good condition. Other sources have since reported a need as high as $268 billion. Despite public support of bond initiatives to provide funding for school facilities, without a clear understanding of the need, it is uncertain whether schools can meet increasing enrollment demands and the smaller class sizes mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act.”

Much of the problem in assessing school facility need is the lack of adequate data. ASCE suggests that, “The first step in addressing the condition of the nation's schools is a realistic and ongoing needs evaluation.”

In order to achieve these goals, ASCE supports the following.

Expand federal tax credits to support increased use of school construction bonds.

Continue and increase federal grants for high-poverty, high-need school districts.

Encourage school districts to explore alternative financing, including lease financing, and financing/ownership/use arrangements to facilitate construction.

Encourage school districts to adopt regular, comprehensive construction and maintenance programs.

Increase emphasis on research and development for design and construction to meet the rapidly changing teaching environment.

Establish a federal, multiyear capital budget for public works infrastructure construction and rehabilitation, similar to those used by state and local governments.

Encourage the use of life-cycle cost analysis principles to evaluate the total costs of projects.

Consider direct federal funding for school construction.

There are many challenges we must meet when it comes to providing a quality education for all students, and the condition of our school facilities must not be ignored.