People in America need jobs. Students need modernized school buildings that promote learning. President Obama put the two together in his recent job package, asking Congress to approve billions of dollars for infrastructure projects – including modernizing and repairing schools across the country. However, asking for money and actually getting funding are two very different things in today’s polarized political climate overshadowed by grave concern for the current state of the country’s economy.
How School Modernization Could Help America
According to a report at Think Progress, school modernization is touted by the current administration as good for education and beneficial to the economy. Vice President Joe Biden’s former chief economist Jared Bernstein asserted that school modernization is a “smart way to get a lot of people who really need jobs back to work, fix a critical part of our institutional infrastructure, save energy costs, provide kids with a better, healthier learning environment, and do so in a way that everyone can see and feel good about each morning when they drop their kids off at school.”
This video from the National Education Association makes the point that Education Support Professional workers say "Safe and healthy schools mean better learning and working conditions for students and school employees".
There is data to support the idea that students learn better in updated facilities. Valerie Strauss in her column, “Answer Sheet,” provides studies that show this to be true:
Research over decades shows that the condition of school facilities affects student achievement. According to a 2011 report by the 21st Century School Fund, there are clear correlations between the quality of school facilities and student and teacher attendance, teacher retention and recruitment, child and teacher health, and the quality of the curriculum.
A second piece of data listed in the Think Progress report supports the fact the modernization of school buildings is a proven job generator. The Economic Policy Institute is quoted as saying, “Using existing school aid formulas, Congress could allocate money to the 100 biggest school districts and the state education agencies to put people to work within a matter of weeks…By next summer, hundreds of thousands of workers could be employed in making improvements to facilities in every school district.”
President Obama, in his address to Congress where he outlined his job package, summed it up simply by asking, “How can we expect our kids to do their best in places that are literally falling apart?” Obama added, “This is America. Every child deserves a great school…and we can give it to them if we act now.”
Where the Money Would Go
The money that President Obama has requested from Congress for school modernization and other infrastructure projects would be spread throughout states across America. One state that would receive ample funding for school projects is Alabama. According to a report at Al.com, Birmingham would receive about $35 million for the specific task of updating schools in the city, while Mobile County would receive a whopping $53.5 million. Birmingham ranks as one of the 100 largest school districts in the country, with eligibility for Title I federal funding for disadvantaged students.
This video looks at modernization of schools in California.
Although the Birmingham school district was able to handle some renovations on their own, thanks to a sales tax increase in Jefferson County, the $400 million allotted for the project was not enough to provide necessary work on all the schools in the city.
“There are still a number of old buildings that could really benefit from this money,” Birmingham spokesperson Michaelle Chapman told Al.com.
Illinois is another state that would benefit greatly from the new infrastructure funding. According to a report at the Chicago New Cooperative, Illinois could stand to gain more than $2 billion in education funding, with much of that money – about half - going into the modernization of current school buildings. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that much of that money set aside for Illinois would go directly to schools in the heart of Chicago.
Ohio could also see a portion of the federal funding if it is approved by Congress. The Toledo Blade reports that the state could see as much as $6 billion in infrastructure funding, with at least a portion of that money going into modernizing school facilities across the state. The rest of the money would be spent on other types of infrastructure projects, such as roads and bridges.
Spending Not Limited to Buildings
The money used to improve the state of education would not be limited to the modernization of buildings. According to the American Independent, much of the money earmarked for education would also go to preserving the jobs of teachers and administrators in cash-strapped districts where teacher layoffs and larger classrooms have quickly become the norm. The Independent reports on findings from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
This video reports on a congressional committee meeting concerning the 21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act.
21 of the 24 states analyzed are providing less funding per student to local school districts in the new school year than they provided last year, and 17 of the 24 are providing less than they did before the recession, after adjusting for inflation. In 10 of these 24 states, per-student funding is down by more than 10 percent from pre-recession levels. The three states with the deepest cuts – South Carolina, Arizona, and California – each have reduced per-student funding to K-12 schools by more than 20 percent.
Since taking office, President Obama has made education a priority for his administration. If the additional funding is approved by Congress, this money could be used to beef up teacher staffing and resources, while improving the state of classrooms and school facilities across the country.
Questions? Contact us on Facebook. @publicschoolreview