Through Your Lens: Tell Your School’s Story to Make a Difference

February 17, 2011

Today we have a guest blog by Sean O’Donnell, Senior Communications Associate at the 21st Century School Fund.

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photos submitted in Through Your Lens

This country’s 55.5 million school-aged children know that their school buildings matter, with almost 90 percent of kids enrolled in 98,000 public schools, including over 4,600 charter schools. The physical learning environment affects their ability to hear and concentrate on a lesson, their comfort and their health.  New or modernized school buildings tend to have better equipment and classroom design for today’s curriculum, and the updated surroundings send a message to both students and teachers that their work and accomplishments are valued.  Despite this, millions of public school students are stuck in sub-par school buildings.

Public school facility investment generally tracks the income level of the community the school is located in.  From 1995 to 2004, schools in low-income zip codes had one third the funding for capital projects as schools in wealthier zip codes. (See Growth and Disparity: 10 Years of PK12 Public School Construction [pdf] for details.)

Although federal, state and local policies are mounting increased pressure to improve test scores and graduation rates, many students and teachers spend time in schools that are deteriorating, out-of-date and overcrowded.  School districts have an estimated $271 billion of deferred building and grounds maintenance in their schools. (See Repair for Success: An Analysis of the Need and Possibilities for a Federal Investment in PK-12 School Maintenance and Repair [pdf] for details.)

A federal, state and local partnership is necessary to ensure that each and every community has sufficient resources to provide high-quality school buildings to their students.

Today, only half of all states have any partnership with their local school districts to share in the responsibility for providing adequate school facilities, and the federal government contributes only 86 cents for every $1000 dollars that states and local districts spend on public school building improvements paid through capital outlay. (See Federal Spending on PK-12 School Facilities [pdf] for details.) For all students and teachers to attend school in buildings that can help them meet the nation’s high expectations, this reality must change.  All three levels of government must contribute to reducing deferred maintenance, modernizing outdated buildings, and reducing overcrowding through building new schools.

Students and teachers can take action today to address inequities in our nation’s school building infrastructure by being part of Through Your Lens, submitting an essay or photo showing their school building conditions and by contacting their elected leaders at www.ThroughYourLens.org.  Please take the time to participate in Through Your Lens. Your story will help make sure all students and teachers learn and teach in a healthy, safe, environmentally sound and educationally appropriate building.

Plus: Check out photos and stories shared in Through Your Lens!