AEC Solutions / Columns / K-12 Buildings / LEED

Repairing Our Educational Foundation

The longer we wait to fix U.S. schools, the more it’ll cost us in the long run.

March 1, 2013
KEYWORDS gao / Green Schools
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Everywhere I go, I see schools falling apart. On my way to work in Washington, D.C., I pass schools with broken windows and crumbling bricks. In the Bronx, I’ve been inside schools where only one out of four bathroom stalls is even remotely usable. In Georgia, I’ve met students and teachers forced to take time away from the classroom to treat headaches and asthma attacks. In my capacity as the director of the Center for Green Schools, I’ve visited schools in more than 27 states. I know that our schools are in desperate need of repair. But I, along with parents, elected officials and taxpayers alike, have no way of knowing just how much fixing there is to do.

The fact is that the government hasn’t conducted a comprehensive survey of the condition of U.S. public


The Edy Ridge E.S. & Lauren Ridge M.S. project in Sherwood, Ore., is certified LEED Gold for New Construction.

Image courtesy of the USGBC

school facilities in the last 17 years. In our newly released “State of our Schools” report, the Center for Green Schools and many of our key partners including the National PTA, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers and the American Society of Civil Engineers, are calling for an updated survey from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the condition of America’s schools. Our hope is that a new study will help paint a picture of deferred maintenance and modernization needs for the nearly 100,000 elementary and secondary schools in this country.

In absence of that vital comprehensive study from the GAO, we worked with the 21st Century School Fund to come up with the best guess to define the scope of the challenge we face. Our report states that approximately $271 billion is needed to bring public schools in the United States up to working order and comply with the laws. But given that in 1995 the average school was 40 years old, getting today’s schools to the way they were in yesteryear will still fail to meet current educational, health and safety standards. Adding modernization to this bill to meet the basic needs of students and teachers brings the total up to $542 billion.

What this report really brings to light is that we are lacking critical data that allows us to address the safety, health, education and environmental challenges of our public school facilities. Better understanding would allow us to not only demonstrate that green schools can bring significant benefits to school and district facilities, but prove that we can invest the limited resources of schools more efficiently, effectively and equitably. 

Despite limited data, we’ve outlined key recommendations to start communities, states and our nation toward a better understanding of where our school facilities stand. These include:

  • Expanding Common Core of Data collected annually by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) to include school level data on building age, building size and site size.
  • Improving the current fiscal reporting of school district facility maintenance and operations data to the NCES so that utility expenditures and maintenance are collected separately.
  • Improving the collection of capital outlay data from school districts to include identification of the source of capital outlay funding and distinctions between capital outlay categories for new construction and for existing facilities.
  • Providing financial and technical assistance to states from the U.S. Department of Education to incorporate facility data in their state longitudinal education data systems.
  • Mandating a GAO facility condition survey to take place every 10 years, with the next one beginning immediately.


EDC’s readers can support our efforts by raising awareness about the impact that the conditions of school facilities have on student performance and health. Join a local Green School Committee (, work on the ground to improve community schools through
our Green Apple Day of Service (, give the gift of our Green Classroom Professional Certificate
( to a teacher you know,
or connect with your local legislator on these important issues.

This isn’t a conversation about better buildings—it’s a conversation about delivering better education to our students, and ensuring that the places where they learn don’t make them sick, or in other ways jeopardize their future.


For more information and to view the full report, visit

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