Half of K-12 Schools Worried About Heating and Cooling

(TNS) — With temperatures soaring to record highs in many parts of the country and fears of the imminent impacts of climate change continue to mount, nearly half of primary and secondary educators say they face challenges in heating and cooling are a pressing problem in their school buildings, according to a new survey from the EdWeek Research Center.

Less than 20 percent of teachers, principals and district leaders describe the condition of school buildings in their district as “excellent.” Thousands of school districts suffer from a wide variety of infrastructure shortcomings: leaking roofs, deteriorating pipes, poor ventilation, overcrowding.

And the majority of educators strongly support federal investment in addressing those concerns.

These findings come from a nationally representative online survey by the EdWeek Research Center, conducted between June 30 and July 12, with 760 respondents, including district leaders, principals and teachers.

They offer new insight into the layers of challenges school districts have long faced with their buildings due to negligible federal investment, inconsistent state aid, and structural disparities in local wealth.

They also highlight the urgency in the K-12 education world surrounding the ongoing debate in Congress over federal spending on “infrastructure,” broadly defined. Everything from roads and bridges to childcare and broadband is on the table for investment, and school building advocates hope they won’t be left behind.

President Joe Biden proposed $50 billion in grants and $50 billion in school district bonds in March to repair existing buildings and add new ones. Since then, however, many K-12 observers have been stunned to see the schoolhouse line item absent from several attempts at smaller investment packages that could gain support from both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Federal investments in school infrastructure have strong support from 58 percent of district leaders, teachers and principals, according to the survey. Another 32 percent said they supported the proposal somewhat.

Democrats, with a slim majority in both houses of Congress, have pledged to pass a larger investment bill in addition to the smaller bipartisan package. That bill, which isn’t guaranteed to pass, could be school districts’ last hope for federal infrastructure funding in the near term — and it’s not clear yet if they’ll make it through the cut.

Meanwhile, 5 percent of teachers, district leaders and principals say school buildings in their district are in “poor condition,” and another 28 percent describe their buildings as “fair.” The remaining 51 percent said their buildings are in “good” condition.

Thirty-one percent of directors and district leaders said leaking or old roofs are an urgent concern. Twenty-nine percent said the same about the poor condition of floors and 28 percent pointed to poor ventilation. Other issues that more than 10 percent of respondents said were urgent include deteriorating sports fields and playgrounds, lack of full accessibility for people with disabilities, inadequate security systems, cracked or drafty windows, overcrowding, crumbling foundations and broken landscaping.

At first glance, some of these numbers seem encouraging. They indicate that most schools have no pressing concerns about these issues.

But the country’s public school system is vast — with 13,000 districts and 100,000 school buildings, even a small portion in disrepair, means millions of students are learning in crumbling facilities.

This can even be done within a neighbourhood. “Schools range from brand new to 60+ years old,” one respondent said of their district. “Older buildings are maintained, but necessary repairs exceed budgets.”

Nine percent of directors and district leaders said asbestos is an urgent concern; 8 percent cited inadequate, dangerous, or old electrical wiring; and 7 percent mentioned mold.

Many respondents said their buildings are well maintained and praised their facility staff for their proactive work and their communities for voting for the necessary funding to complete maintenance projects. However, some respondents had serious complaints: their school buildings are almost 100 years old; the roof has collapsed; temperatures vary widely from class to class; wiring and plumbing are outdated.

“The trailer I currently teach is 50 years old and the walls and floors have been replaced numerous times due to rot and mold,” said one respondent.

Far more respondents mentioned urgent concerns about heating and cooling than about any other problem. Two-thirds of district leaders said more than three-quarters of their school buildings have air conditioning in classrooms. But six percent said none of their school buildings have air conditioning, and 13 percent said only a quarter or fewer of their buildings have.

The differences in air conditioning vary widely from region to region, according to the research. Eighty-eight percent of respondents in the south said all buildings in their district have air conditioning, while only 20 percent in the north said the same.

These findings are concerning because of the effects of climate change on average temperatures and because studies have shown that heat exposure affects students’ performance on tests.

© 2021 Education Week (Bethesda, Md.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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