Home > Uncategorized > No One Speaks for the School Buildings… and So They Deteriorate… Especially in Poverty Stricken School Districts

No One Speaks for the School Buildings… and So They Deteriorate… Especially in Poverty Stricken School Districts

May 3, 2018

Yesterday Diane Ravitch wrote a post on a recent study that indicated Arizona public schools will require an investment of $2,000,000,000 in its facilities to meet the goals set for its schools. The report itemized the funding needs as follows:

  • Early Childhood Education — $200 million to meet the needs of children under the poverty line to improve their success in school
  • Teacher Salaries — $686 million to provide a $10,000 flat raise to Arizona’s teachers to address what may be the worst teacher shortage in the country and maximize the recruitment and retention of young teaching professionals
  • Added Interventions—$250 million to achieve goals for third grade reaching, eighth-grade math and high school graduation
  • Refilling prior state investments: $991.million:
    • District Additional Assistance: $352 million
    • All-day Kindergarten: $265 million
    • New School Construction: $284 million
    • Building Renewal Funds: $90 million

The recent teacher walkouts in that state and others have flagged the need to increase teacher compensation, which constitutes slightly more than a third of the needed funds, and this blog and many other editorials have flagged the need for intervention programs, which constitute another 35+% of the two billion needed, but not too many words have been written about the need for upgrades in facilities, which constitute nearly 20% of the shortfall in funding.

When districts encounter funding crises, like the ones that have plagued public education since the outset of the Great Recession, the first thing that gets cut is maintenance. As a former business manager who worked in one of the districts I led said, kids have vocal parents as constituents, taxpayers are always vocal constituents, but no one speaks up for the buildings. As a result, the buildings suffer, the deferred maintenance costs accumulate, and taxpayers ultimately face a higher cost for repairs than they would have faced if the preventative maintenance costs were funded. This cycle of deferring maintenance expenditures, in turn, is characterized as “neglect” by State and federal politicians whose shortchanging of funding for schools diminished the resources as the local level that forced districts to make the decision to defer maintenance instead of cutting classroom teachers.

This vicious cycle COULD be stopped if state and federal politicians perceived investments in school facilities as an economic development opportunity instead of a drain on taxpayers. By engaging in renovation and construction projects the politicians could create jobs for people that would benefit their communities in two ways: it would improve the local economy and simultaneously improve the learning opportunities for the children. But when politicians talk about the need for “improving infrastructure” public schools do not make the list. Instead “infrastructure” projects are defined as roads, bridges, and utilities. Why? Because the funding for schools is viewed as a local issue. And the result? Affluent districts have far superior facilities to poverty stricken ones. And facilities do not make the list of improvements “reformers”seek when they want improve  “failing schools”. Instead they go after “bloated salaries”. Why? Because the largest percentage of funds are spent on the compensation of personnel. Instead of seeking to improve the brick-and-mortar schools too many reformers– especially those seeking high profits— seek to replace decrepit facilities with on-line “learning opportunities.”

And so the vicious cycle continues… and the divide between affluent schools and those schools serving children in poverty stricken areas widens.

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