What will the infrastructure plan not do? Fix our crumbling schools.

After years of empty talk, the federal government is finally taking meaningful action to repair our national infrastructure. that of the White House revised plan promises to improve and expand railways, rebuild roads and bridges and provide universal access to the Internet. What won’t it do? Repairing our ruined schools.

In October of last year, as debates about reopening safe schools raged in Philadelphia and across the country, educational media Chalkbeat reported that two-thirds of elementary classrooms in Philadelphia did not meet minimum ventilation standards, which measure airflow per person. Fifteen schools did not have a single classroom that could safely accommodate more than 14 students.

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The school district, pushing for schools to reopen, suggested using box fans to alleviate those concerns, but such an ad hoc solution alarmed parents and teachers. Unfortunately, larger repairs are probably out of reach for the district: Analysis 2017 estimated that repairing the ventilation in the city’s schools could cost a prohibitive $ 600 million.

Philadelphia and many districts across the country cannot afford to make necessary repairs to their school buildings, which is why, in March, the Biden administration offers allocate $ 100 billion for this in its infrastructure plan. This is a huge – and rare – opportunity to make necessary and significant investments in school infrastructure.

Republican members of Congress, however, seem indifferent to the state of the country’s schools: their against proposal did not include any funding for education. In an effort to achieve a bipartisan compromise, the Biden administration issued a revised version of the plan which excludes investments in the financing of school fixed assets. Their new proposal’s investment in education is limited to electrifying school buses, expanding broadband access, and eliminating lead pipes. While these are laudable goals, the revised framework does not address the issues that have become so serious that students are put at risk while attending school.

The pandemic has highlighted some school infrastructure issues, such as lack of space to allow social distancing and inadequate ventilation systems that cannot guard against an airborne pathogen, which remain relevant. But the persistent underinvestment in school buildings created problems long before COVID-19.

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Here in Philadelphia, the school district has struggled to reduce asbestos levels and lead exposure. My old high school in Burlington, Vermont, is operating temporarily from a abandoned department store because high levels of Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were found at school. Raised PCB have also been found in schools in Washington, Connecticut, new York, and West Virginia. The college I taught in Brooklyn lacked reliable air conditioning; we used clicker window units which would interfere with learning or just not work. It is a problem in many public schools Across the country, although research shows noticeably excessive heat lowers test results, especially for low-income, black and Hispanic students. Secondary class temperatures can force schools to To close or threaten the basic health and safety students and teachers.

The national picture reflects these regional trends. According to National Center for Education Statistics, in the 2012-2013 school year (most recent national data available), 24% of US schools were in “fair” or “poor” condition, 31% reported using temporary or transportable buildings, and 39% planned to carry out major repairs within two years. The report valued that $ 197 billion would be needed for repairs, renovations and upgrades to schools in order to achieve “good general condition”. In its 2021 infrastructure report sheet, the American Society of Civil Engineers classified American school facilities a D +.

Spending on school infrastructure is good for communities: evidence suggests it can help increase the value of the house and other research shows that investments in school facilities can boost test results and attendance. However, despite a clear and urgent need to invest in school buildings, capital expenditure per student has fallen over the past two decades, and stay lower than it was in 2000.

As the infrastructure plan is the subject of further negotiations in the House and Senate, I urge policymakers to note the gaping hole that was left when most American schools have gone virtual Last year. The importance of in-person schooling for students, parents, businesses, and society as a whole was highlighted when these opportunities were brutally suppressed. In the fall, schools could once again fulfill their crucial role in society as students return to in-person learning, as long as they remain standing.

Nell Williams, a former sixth-grade teacher, has a doctorate. studying education policy at the University of Pennsylvania. @Nell_Hypothesis

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