Recent media reports indicate that schools across the country are operating with unhealthy levels of lead in the water, asbestos, mold and mildew, PCBs, rodents, insects, deteriorating infrastructure, and uncomfortable temperatures. In April 1995—the last time the U.S. Government Accountability Office conducted a report on school facilities—more than 8 million students attended schools with poor air quality; 12 million students attended schools in need of new roofs or roof upgrades; and 12 million students attended schools with inadequate plumbing. The quality of school facilities impacts recruitment and retention of effective leaders and teachers, student attendance, and the health of the entire school community—all of which can affect student achievement.
In response to this school health crisis, the NASSP Board of Directors stated its intent to adopt a position statement on school facilities (www.nassp.org/school-facilities) on November 15, 2016. In addition to making sure that school buildings are not harmful to students, educators, parents, or community members, NASSP also wants to ensure that schools offer a welcoming and engaging environment designed for 21st-century learning. This includes flexible spaces for personalized learning and small group work, makerspaces that encourage project-based and cross-disciplinary learning, facilities for students to pursue athletics and performing arts, and a greater emphasis on technology and learning beyond the school day.
In the position statement, NASSP encourages federal policymakers to collect data on the physical condition of the nation’s school facilities in order to help states and districts modernize and repair their schools. We also recommend adequate funding for the E-Rate program and reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education program to help make school a relevant and engaging experience for all students.
Key recommendations for school leaders:
- Document building hazards within your school and health-related complaints from staff and students, and communicate regularly with district officials to ensure conditions have been rectified.
- Educate yourself about the condition of the school infrastructure in your district and participate in district-level facilities planning.
- If your school was built prior to 1980, familiarize yourself with guidance and tools offered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ensure the quality of your drinking water.
The NASSP Board of Directors is expected to give final approval to the position statement at its March 2017 meeting. We believe that ensuring safe, healthy, and modern public school facilities that can support innovative teaching and personalization is crucial to increasing academic achievement and graduation rates and ensuring all students have access to effective teachers and school leaders.
As a member of the Rebuild America’s Schools Coalition, NASSP will continue to advocate for a permanent extension of the Qualified Zone Academy Bonds program to help districts borrow funding at low interest rates to finance school renovation and repair projects. We will also work with Congress on other ways to reduce the burden on states and districts such as tax code reforms and federal grant programs for school construction and maintenance.
Amanda Karhuse is the director of advocacy at NASSP.