School Facilities Belong in the Nation’s Infrastructure Portfolio

Posted on by Mary Filardo and Jeff Vincent

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) recently issued its 2017 report card rating 16 different categories of infrastructure. ASCE includes public school facilities in their infrastructure rating—grading them a D+. However, state and federal plans to rebuild and modernize America’s infrastructure, often omit schools from our nation’s infrastructure portfolio.



Public school buildings and grounds need to be fully included in state and federal planning and funding for the nation’s infrastructure. 


First, just like other major water, transit, or port infrastructure, school facilities projects require long range planning and forecasting to ensure efficient use of land and other resources.  Our nation’s public schools are estimated to be, on average, 44 years old and are multi-purpose facilities in our communities. They are shelters in case of emergencies or disasters, civic centers for voting and public meetings, community hubs for social activities, and green space for parks and recreation. The quality and character of public school facilities affects the larger community over generations. Comprehensive and joint state, regional and municipal planning is critical to environmental and fiscal sustainability across public infrastructure assets.  

Second, public school infrastructure, is financed through bonds repaid over many years. Public school construction, like water treatment plants and other infrastructure with multi-generational use, employs capital financing to pay for design, construction and major improvements.  This financing of capital requires complex policy and finance associated with securing debt, and the need for adequate revenue streams for repayment. Local school districts alone, had $409 billion of long term debt at the end of fiscal year 2014.  School construction is a close 2nd to highways in average annual capital outlay for state and local expenditures.

Third, like nearly all public works projects, the nearly $50 billion a year for school district capital outlay is delivered by the private for-profit building industry.  The management and delivery of school construction and building improvements are done under the authority of public commissions, boards, and administrators, but the work is delivered through contracts with private companies. School districts share with their counterparts in water, transportation, utilities and other sectors the need to manage private industry expertise, services and interests from the public interest.

But perhaps most important, is that public education is mission critical to the health, safety and prosperity of our nation.  The transfer of knowledge from one generation to another through our public educational system is an essential personal AND public responsibility. The United States has developed a remarkable physical infrastructure – of school buildings and grounds that both delivers education and keeps our children engaged and safe while their parents and guardians work.

It is beyond time, for our leaders in K-12 public school facilities to be at the “transportation and infrastructure” table.  State and local public school facilities officials need to be in all state and federal discussions about rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure.  

This article originally appeared in School Planning & Management, May 2017.

School facilities and student physical activity

Posted on by Hannah Thompson, PhD

National experts recommend that, for optimal health, youth get at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) a day - which is the kind of movement that gets you sweating and breathing harder. However, youth are far from meeting this recommendation. And, unfortunately, significant disparities exist by age, sex, race/ethnicity, and income. The Institute of Medicine has, logically, identified the school setting as an ideal venue for increasing access to physical activity among diverse youth. Image Credit: Hannah Thompson However, many obstacles get in the way of students getting MVPA at school. We know that with limited funding, resources,…

Tardiness and Poor School Facility Conditions are Interconnected

Posted on by Amanda Eppley, CC+S

The California Department of Education’s new California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) provides loads of insight for state and local leaders into what makes for healthy school environments…and what doesn’t. A perpetually overlooked aspect of school health and overall school climate is the condition of a school’s facilities and grounds. Here at the Center for Cities + Schools, we’ve looked at this issue in a number of studies  – and we have found alarming patterns of underinvestment in California’s K-12 facilities , which raise serious questions about whether or not children are attending school facilities that are healthy, safe, in good repair,…

Detroit Students Promote the Campaign for Healthy Schools

Posted on by Shirl Buss

The Center for Cities + Schools in collaboration with Wayne State University’s Volunteers, Administrators and Coaches (VAC) have been implementing Y-PLAN Initiatives over the past nine years.  For the past two years students have been engaged in a multi-year effort to promote healthy eating and active living in the schools, housing developments, and neighborhoods in the urban core of Detroit.   As part of this effort, the children ages 4-14 at Brewster Homes and Parkside Village, created posters as a public awareness campaign to increase healthy behavior and healthier school environments.   Students, like young illustrator Martez Vance (pictured here), worked…


Posted on by Anne Robertson

By BROCK HICKS   The number—and the proportion—of students enrolled in public charter schools (independently run public schools) is increasing nationwide, particularly in urban school districts. The public policy debate in education on the pros and cons of charter schools remains tenuous and divided. Market-oriented educational reformers favor charter schools as the answer to the problems in urban public school systems; public and private funds available for constructing and running charter schools continue to increase. However, charter schools have many critics. For example, in 2016 the NAACP and the Black Lives Matter Movement passed resolutions critical of charter schools and…

City – School Partnerships A Natural Home for Health Equity:

Posted on by Cailin

Y-PLAN Richmond and the Shift Towards Health in All Classrooms As featured on the Build Healthy Places Network blog.  August 30, 2016 | Deborah L. McKoy and Megan Calpin In 2015, sixty students peered out at a local landfill as a community elder and environmental justice activist spoke about the persistent health problems caused by the city’s industrial heritage. The students are in their local high school’s health academy, and are beginning to ponder the future health and sustainability of their community. Richmond stands at a crossroads of an environmental justice and health equity movement. The land beneath their feet…

Strengthening Health Career Pipeline Diversity in Sacramento

Posted on by Diana and Lilian

As graduate students in the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, we’re surrounded every day by our colleagues - members of a new wave of health workforce.  Training this new wave of individuals has never been more important; it is projected that, in order to meet increased demand due to the aging and growing population, as well as retiring workforce, California’s health care system will need almost 500,000 additional workers by 2020. There is not only a need for additional, trained health workforce members, but also a need to ensure that this new workforce is racially/ethnically representative of the larger population.…

Join us for the Y-PLAN Japan 5th anniversary celebration!

Posted on by Marceline Graham

Y-PLAN Japan was launched with the TOMODACHI Softbank Youth Leadership Program at UC Berkeley in 2012. The TOMODACHI program seeks to build U.S. Japanese relations and offer relief to residents of Japan directly affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in 2011. To date, 700 students from Japan’s Tohoku region have participated in this exciting program committed to revitalizing their home communities. Join us on August 7th at Andersen Auditorium, UC Berkeley, to celebrate 5 years of Y-PLAN Japan and youth action for change!  Register here This evening celebration welcomes past participants, partners, host families, and others seeking to: Learn about TOMODACHI youth accomplishments since…

America’s School Buildings—Like California’s—Need Fixing

Posted on by JEFF VINCENT, PHD
Filed under: School Facilities

Our country’s K-12 infrastructure is in crisis. Far too often, these learning environments are rundown and in disrepair, discourage and sicken children and teachers, waste energy, and fail to support a 21st century education. A new national study by the 21st Century School Fund, the National Council on School Facilities, and the Center for Green Schools sheds much-needed light on the grim reality: a $46 billion annual shortfall in funds needed to keep the country’s school buildings healthy, safe and conducive to learning. My research on California echoes the national trend: more than half of the state's school districts underspend each year on their facilities,…

Getting Local: Facilities Needs in a Northern California School District

Filed under: School Facilities

A NEW UC BERKELEY CENTER FOR CITIES+SCHOOLS STUDY FINDS THAT MORE THAN HALF OF CALIFORNIA’S K-12 SCHOOL DISTRICTS UNDERSPEND ON THEIR FACILITIES, COMPARED TO BEST PRACTICE SPENDING STANDARDS. THIS IS A GUEST BLOG REFLECTING ON THE RESEARCH FINDINGS AND IMPLICATIONS FOR CALIFORNIA STATE POLICY. The new study from UC Berkeley’s Center for Cities and Schools on school facilities spending patterns in California hits home in my school district, San Juan Unified School district (SJUSD). In the study, “Going it Alone: Can California’s K-12 School Districts adequately and Equitably Fund School Facilities?”, Jeff Vincent and Liz Jain document school district efforts across…