NASBE Analysis Urges States to Invest Equitably in School Infrastructure
Alexandria, Va. – Poor indoor environmental quality impairs student health and decreases academic performance, yet many school facilities are in disrepair, creating subpar learning conditions. With newly available federal infrastructure funding, states can direct resources toward school facilities with the most need, according to a new NASBE analysis.
Only 11 states have conducted assessments over the last 10 years to determine where facility needs are greatest. More states should follow suit, writes NASBE’s Megan Blanco. “Poorer, smaller school communities typically lack a sufficiently robust tax base and central office staff to address facility needs. As a result, these communities face a greater repair backlog. Thus, equity should be a guiding principle in state decisions to invest in facilities.”
The analysis highlights ways that Rhode Island and Illinois are addressing facilities inequity and targeting resources toward school infrastructure:
- Rhode Island’s Facilities Equity Initiative funds repairs in five high-needs districts. These five districts enroll half the state’s students receiving free reduced-price lunches, 70 percent of its multilingual learners, and 40 percent of students with disabilities.
- The Illinois State Board of Education routinely assesses and reports on the condition of school facilities statewide to better direct resources to high-need areas. The state’s school construction grant program allows communities with greatest financial need to get a higher state match for overall project costs.
Proper ventilation is of particular concern in managing COVID-19, yet 30 percent of schools have unmet heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system repair or replacement needs. To date, districts have committed to spending nearly $15 billion from the federal American Rescue Plan on school facilities with $5.7 billion earmarked for upgrading HVAC systems and $2.8 billion for “repairs that prevent illness,” which includes removal of lead. As part of the White House Action Plan for Building Better School Infrastructure, states can access an additional $500 million from the Department of Energy for increasing energy efficiency in schools.
While the federal infusion is not sufficient to cover the backlog of repair and construction needs, state leaders should seize these opportunities to improve learning environments so all students can thrive. “While some state boards hold direct authority over school facilities and others have an oversight role, all state boards can call attention to the harmful effects of unsafe learning environments, build consensus toward improvement, and ask about inequities in funding,” writes Blanco.
To help states take targeted, concrete actions toward creating and increasing access to healthy school facilities free from environmental harms, NASBE has launched the Healthy School Facilities Network. Participating state teams will receive a grant of $10,000 to support this work. States should apply to the network by September 16 .
NASBE serves as the only membership organization for state boards of education. A nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, NASBE elevates state board members’ voices in national and state policymaking, facilitates the exchange of informed ideas, and supports members in advancing equity and excellence in public education for students of all races, genders, and circumstances. Learn more at www.nasbe.org.