U.S. Public School Facilities In Trouble

Maintaining School Facilities


“We estimate that the nation should be spending about $145 billion per year to maintain, operate and renew (K-12 public school) facilities so that they provide healthy and safe 21st-century learning environments for all children.” That statement comes from the executive summary of “The State of Our Schools: America’s K-12 Facilities” report, released March 23 by the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the 21st Century School Fund and the National Council on School Facilities. The report goes on to say that the current national expenditures are $99 billion, leaving a $46 billion gap, which “leaves school districts unprepared to provide adequate and equitable school facilities.”

The report goes into a little more detail about that gap saying, “Comparing historic spending against building industry and bestpractice standards for responsible facilities stewardship, we estimate that national spending falls short by about $8 billion for M&O (maintenance and operations) and $38 billion for capital construction.”

According to a USGBC release, Rick Fedrizzi, CEO and founding chair, USGBC says, “One out of every six people in the U.S. spends each day in a K-12 public school classroom, yet there is very little oversight over America’s public school buildings. It is totally unacceptable that there are millions of students across the country who are learning in dilapidated, obsolete and unhealthy facilities that pose obstacles to their learning and overall well-being. U.S. public school infrastructure is funded through a system that is inequitably affecting our nation’s students, and this has to change.”

The Executive Summary opens with the statement, “A large and growing body of evidence demonstrates that school facilities have a direct impact on student learning, student and staff health, and school finances. But too many students attend school facilities that fall short of providing 21st-century learning environments because essential maintenance and capital improvements are underfunded.”


The State of Our Schools Report places a Current Replacement Value (CRV) of the nation’s schools at $1.937 trillion. That figure is based on an average cost per gross square footage at $256, multiplied by the total gross square footage of the nation’s public K-12 facilities at 7.5 billion.

The report says that its findings show the federal government provides almost no capital construction funding for school facilities, and state support varies widely. It says that local school districts bear the heaviest burden in making the investments needed. “When school districts cannot afford to make these significant investments, they are often forced to make more frequent building repairs from their operating funds — the same budget that pays for teacher salaries, instructional materials and general programming.”

Findings indicate that only three states, Texas, Florida and Georgia, have average spending levels that meet or exceed the standards for investment. Six states (Massachusetts, Wyoming, Connecticut, Ohio, Kentucky and Hawaii) pay for all or nearly all of the capital construction costs for their schools, while 12 states (Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin) provide no direct support to districts for capital construction responsibilities. Spending levels in the remaining 32 states vary greatly, and the federal government contributes almost nothing to capital construction to help alleviate disparities.

That being said, the report does not point fingers or place blame. In fact, it says the findings show that, on average, “state and local governments invest more capital in K-12 public school facilities than in any other infrastructure sector outside of highways.” It also says that, “School districts worked hard from 1994 through 2013 to operate, maintain, modernize and meet the enrollment growth of the nation’s K-12 public schools. In the span of these 20 years, school facilities changed more rapidly than at any time in recent memory, fueled by improved health and safety standards, stronger accessibility requirements, increased use of technology and expanded programming within schools.

The report features an in-depth, state-by-state analysis of investment in school infrastructure and focuses on 20 years (1994 to 2013) of school facility investment nationwide, as well as funding needed moving forward to make up for annual investment shortfalls for essential repairs and upgrades. The report also proposes recommendations for investments, innovations and reforms to improve learning environments for children in all U.S. public schools.

The report identifies four key strategies for addressing the structural deficits in the K-12 public education infrastructure. “First, understand current facilities conditions. Second, engage communities in planning for adequate and equitable 21stcentury facilities. Third, find and pilot new innovative sources of public funding. Finally, leverage public and private resources in new ways to assist states and districts in providing healthy, safe, educationally appropriate, and environmentally responsible facilities for their communities.”

On a more positive note, the report says that the research indicates, “The American public supports high-quality school facilities. When communities have the means to build and maintain high-quality facilities, they do.”


Proposed national standards for maintaining school facilities refer to the percentage of facilities’ current replacement value that should be invested annually to maintain school buildings in good condition in order to be able to deliver healthy, safe, educationally appropriate, and environmentally sustainable school facilities.

  • 3 Percent — Annual M&O — Cleaning, grounds keeping, routine and preventive maintenance, minor repairs, utilities and security.
  • 2 Percent — Periodic renewals — Replacement of key components that wear out, roofs, windows, doors, boilers, etc.
  • 1 Percent — As-Needed Alterations — Additional space for smaller classes, expanding early childhood, addressing environmental concerns, integrating technology, and improving safety and security.
  • 1 Percent — Systematic reduction of deferred maintenance — Making up for delayed M&O, renewals and alterations.

(A building’s lifespan is figured at 50 years, with a deprecation rate of 2 percent per year.)

To download the full State of Our Schools: America’s K–12 Facilities report, and to find out the conditions in your local school district, please visit

This article originally appeared in the issue of .

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