You almost never hear in debates about student achievement and school reform how the condition of school buildings affects a child’s ability to learn, but it is a very real issue.

Here is a new fact sheet on the condition of school buildings, the level of public funding for facilities and their upkeep and the impact degrading schools has on students and teachers.



It was researched and written, in the absence of a national database with this information, by the 21st Century School Fund — a non-profit organization dedicated to improving urban public school facilities — together with its Building Educational Success Together (BEST) partners. You can find this fact sheet, along with sources for the information, here at the fund’s web.


How many elementary and secondary public school buildings and grounds are there in the United States?

*98,706 PK-12 grade public schools, including 4,694 public charter schools in 2008-2009.

*Nearly 90% of all of the 55.5 million school age children in the United States attend public schools.

*School districts manage over 1 million acres of school building site area.

* There is an estimated 6.6 billion gross square feet of public school building space.

What is the condition of public school facilities?

*School districts have an estimated $271 billion of deferred building and grounds maintenance in their schools, excluding administrative facilities, which averages $4,883 per student.

*In a 2010 state survey, 10 states (CO, DE, GA, HI, IL, KY, LA, ME, MT, NJ) reported needing an average of $4,400 per student for deferred maintenance.

*Public school facility investment aligns with the wealth of the community in which the school is located. Between 1995-2004, schools in low-income zip codes had one-third the funding for capital projects as schools in high-income zip codes.

What difference does facility condition make?

*Teachers in Chicago and Washington, DC reported missing 4 days annually because of health problems caused by adverse building conditions (with poor indoor air quality being the biggest problem).

*A national survey of school nurses found over 40% of the nurses knew children and staff adversely impacted by avoidable indoor pollutants.

*Students from 95 New York City Public Schools attended fewer days on average in schools with poor facilities and had lower grades in English language arts and math which could be correlated to lower attendance.

*Schools that implement energy-saving strategies – from following green building design to using energy-efficient building components to behavioral change – can reduce energy use by as much as one-third, resulting in major environmental and cost-savings benefits.

What do elementary and secondary public school facilities cost?

*In 2008, school districts spent $58.5 billion for capital outlay on construction and land and building acquisition and they reported $369.4 billion of long term capital debt.

*Since 1999, an average of 80% of capital outlay has been spent on new construction and additions, with 20% spent on alterations or improvements to existing buildings.

*Schools districts spent $49 billion, almost 10 percent, of their operating budgets on maintenance and operations of their school buildings in 2008.

*Public school districts spent an estimated $9.4 billion for utilities in 2008.

Who funds elementary and secondary public school facilities?

*Nearly all capital outlay funding is from state and local taxes, with the federal share at less than 86 cents per 1,000 dollars of state and local spending. This federal contribution is targeted to Indian, military, and charter schools, as well as a pilot program for Iowa public schools.

*Between 2005 and 2008, the average state share of funds for capital projects was 30%. However, this ranged from 11 states contributing no funds for school facility projects to 3 states and the District of Columbia paying 100% of the cost of school facility projects.

*Annual costs for maintenance repair and operations, including utilities and cleaning are part of the school district operating budget, which on average, is paid for with 90% from local and state sources and 10% from the federal government.


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