Report Puts Price Tag of School Refurbishment At $500 Billion

Half a trillion dollars is needed to refurbish crumbling school buildings, according to the Center for Green Schools. Falling government revenues and budget cuts means that schools are not being well-maintained and the expense of just getting them up to code would be close to $270 billion. The same amount is needed to upgrade them to modernize them with amenities such as building-wide internet access.

The sobering numbers come courtesy of a report from the Center for Green Schools, with the former President Bill Clinton writing a foreword encouraging the Government Accountability Office to investigate and address the problems outlined in the published paper. In 1995, the last time a similar assessment had been done, the total price tag was estimated to be around $112 billion.

The Center for Green Schools' researchers reviewed spending and estimates schools spent $211 billion on upkeep between 1995 and 2008. During that same time, schools should have spent some $482 billion, the group calculated based on a formula included in the most recent GAO study. That left a $271 billion gap between what should have been spent on upkeep and what was, the group reported. Each student's share? Some $5,450.

Rachel Gutter, who heads up a group affiliated with the U.S. Green Building Council, says that building maintenance is a key aspect of education quality. Its importance is frequently played down when compared to faculty and curriculum, but the environment where classes take place is just as important as both of these things and deserves as much attention.

Gutter's group says that the Education Department needs to keep a closer track of the conditions of America's school buildings and the associated costs of keeping them up to date and well maintained. She added that voters would be outraged if the true conditions of the schools became widely known, calling the situation "a scandal."

Schools' appearances alone, of course, do not guarantee students' success but it is certainly more difficult to teach and learn when water is coming in through the ceiling, pipes are growling or rooms are frigid. The report does not assign blame for schools' disrepair but the problems often start at the local and state levels. In most cases, schools are funded by local property taxes and they are reliant on their neighbors' wealth and willingness to fund their schools. A National Center for Education Statistics found large disparities between schools in areas of high poverty and those in more affluent areas.

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