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Condition of America's Public School Facilities: 1999
NCES: 2000032
June 2000

Executive Summary


Over the past decade, the physical condition of America's public schools has received considerable attention (e.g., Kozol 1991; Lewis et al. 1989). For example, a number of lawsuits challenging school funding for facilities have drawn attention to the poor conditions that many students encounter at school [e.g., Roosevelt Elementary School No. 66 v. Bishop, 877 P. 2d 806 (Ariz. 1994)]. Newspaper stories and research studies describing poor ventilation, broken plumbing, and overcrowding have raised concerns about the effects of school facilities on teaching and learning. More importantly, some conditions, like sagging roofs or poor air quality, have raised serious questions about student and teacher safety.

The physical condition of schools is described in a series of reports based on a 1994 study conducted by the United States General Accounting Office (GAO). In addition, several studies have reported on school repair and construction costs, each with a somewhat different focus. The 1994 GAO study provided estimates of the cost of repairs, renovations, and modernizations to put schools into good overall condition (U.S. GAO 1995a), while a more recent GAO study reported actual school construction expenditures for fiscal years 1990 through 1997 (U.S. GAO 2000). Another report included actual costs of completed school construction projects in 1998 and projected expenditures for new construction, additions, and renovations for 1999 (Abramson 1999). A report recently released by the National Education Association (NEA) gave a cost estimate of the funds needed for various kinds of school infrastructure (including new construction) and education technology (NEA2000).

This report provides national data about the condition of public schools in 1999 based on a survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) using its Fast Response Survey System (FRSS). Specifically, this report provides information about the condition of school facilities and the costs to bring them into good condition; school plans for repairs, renovations, and replacements; the age of public schools; and overcrowding and practices used to address overcrowding. The results presented in this report are based on questionnaire data for 903 public elementary and secondary schools in the United States. The responses were weighted to produce national estimates that represent all regular public schools in the United States. Information about the condition of school facilities is based on questionnaire rating scales rather than on physical observation of school conditions by outside observers.