The Report Card on America’s Infrastructure’s chapter on schools opens with the statement that school facilities represent the second largest sector of public infrastructure spending, after highways, and yet there is no comprehensive national data on the condition of K-12 public school infrastructure. To develop the ASCE schools grade of a D+, engineers instead relied on various third party analysis and a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on specific states. The chapter’s top recommendation is that the U.S. Department of Education should coordinate with state agencies and local school districts to obtain and publish nationwide statistics on school infrastructure at regular intervals.
ASCE has advocated for such information collection since the first ASCE report card in 1998. The first step in addressing the state of the nation’s schools is to understand the full scope of current conditions.
Lately, there has been some movement to address the concerns raised by ASCE. On May 18th, the House Education and Labor Committee advanced the ASCE supported Rebuild America Schools Act (H.R 604). The bill would create a need-based grant program for local educational agencies (LEAs) to improve school facilities. Further, the bill specifies allowable uses of grant funds, including carrying out major repairs, improving indoor air quality, and making facilities accessible to disabled individuals. Additionally, the bill includes authorization of a National Clearinghouse on School Infrastructure and Sustainability which would direct the Department, every five years, to carry out a comprehensive study of the physical conditions of all public schools.
In addition to the new legislation, the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget proposal includes a $2 million request to establish the proposed National Clearinghouse on School Infrastructure and Sustainability. Finally, the Department of Education held a listening session on May 23rd with stakeholders, including ASCE, to review the proposal. ASCE expressed its support for the proposed office and emphasized the importance of reliable data to accurately assess the conditions of the nation’s schools.