The sorry condition of Baltimore’s public schools made headlines last week, with students forced to wear their winter jackets to class due to broken heating and classroom temperatures that in some cases dropped below 40 degrees. But Baltimore’s schools aren’t alone, even if they provided an especially vivid case, Edwin Rios reports:
On Wednesday, after the district closed four schools and dismissed two others early, Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Santelises said in a Facebook video that 60 school buildings—a third of the district—reported problems that included broken boilers and water pipes. The decision to close schools, though, wasn’t made lightly. Santelises noted in the video that in the district, where nearly 87 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced lunch, administrators were forced to try to find a balance between the students’ need for food and safety with an impossibly cold learning environment.
America’s schools suffer from chronic underinvestment:
The problem has been brewing for decades. The Government Accountability Office concluded in 1995 that America’s schools needed a collective $112 billion to “repair or upgrade their facilities to good condition.” That number has ballooned to an estimated $145 billion per year, including an additional $46 billion each year on construction and maintenance to bring facilities up to modern standards, according to a 2016 “State of Our Schools” report. […]
After the 2008 recession, most states reduced school funding, putting pressure on local districts to make up the difference. In 2015, 29 states still had less overall state funding than they did in the 2008 school year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, even as student enrollment grew.
Meanwhile, the capital funds, which are used to renovate and build new schools and to shore up technological infrastructure, dropped 31 percent from 2008 to 2015. The ASCE 2017 report card noted that the constricted budgets have led to “accelerating deterioration of heating, cooling, and lighting systems.”
Meanwhile, many places pour huge amounts of money into building, buying or leasing new facilities for charter schools—schools whose existence is justified because chronic underfunding of public schools leaves them weakened and vulnerable. Call it the cycle of Republican governance—breaking things in order to claim they don’t work anyway so they shouldn’t be funded. Only in the case of education, Democrats all too often join in.