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From Vision to Reality: How Steadfast Advocacy Led to a National Hub for School Infrastructure

    For over 15 years, dogged advocates for improving school infrastructure have been urging the Department of Education (ED), as well as members of Congress, to create a national hub for school facility information that would help school districts, states and other policymakers make better decisions about our K-12 schools. Indeed, when IWBI President and CEO Rachel Hodgdon and I worked together at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in the late 2000s, we proposed legislation that would fund such an idea. In the meantime without such a federal entity in place over the past decade, it’s been groups like IWBI, USGBC, the 21st Century School Fund and others that have stepped in and supported invaluable efforts to better understand the often dismal condition of our nation’s school facilities, evidenced most recently by the 2021 State of Our Schools report, a vital resource that found a staggering $85 billion annual investment gap in K-12 school infrastructure.

    But this month, after years of tireless coalitional advocacy work spearheaded by the Building America’s School Infrastructure Coalition (BASIC), ED announced it was creating the National Center on School Infrastructure. The newly created Center – which will be administered by the 21st Century School Fund (21CSF), the University of California at Berkeley’s Institute of Urban & Regional Development, the National Council on School Facilities (NCSF), and Child Trends – will serve as “a clearinghouse of resources for states and local educational agencies (LEAs) related to improving and developing safe, healthy, sustainable, and equitable public school infrastructure through public school infrastructure improvements.”

    The establishment of the National Center on School Infrastructure marks a monumental advancement for educational facilities nationwide, one that I believe will help usher in a new era of excellence in school infrastructure. After all, you can’t manage what you don’t measure, and all this time, the federal government has not been tracking or monitoring the condition of our schools. Yet, it is clear that our school buildings play a pivotal role in shaping student learning, bolstering the health and well-being of students, teachers and administrators, and influencing numerous other aspects of the educational experience. “Research has shown that modern, well-maintained facilities and healthy learning environments can help schools Raise the Bar by increasing student achievement, reducing absenteeism, and improving teacher retention,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona earlier this month upon announcing the Center.

    In addition to the Center, ED also announced $37 million in school infrastructure grants to seven states and one territory over five years as part of the Supporting America’s School Infrastructure (SASI) program, which will help the grantees “conduct school facility needs assessments in high-need school districts; hire new staff; and develop or improve public school infrastructure data systems, among other actions.”

    One of the leading lawmakers who made the Center and the grant funding possible, a longtime school infrastructure champion, U.S. Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott of Virginia, had this to say: “Chronic neglect of America’s public schools has forced students and teachers across the country to learn and work in outdated and hazardous school buildings. Moreover, dilapidated and poorly ventilated school facilities pose significant health threats that make it harder for teachers to teach and students to learn. These new investments announced by the Education Department will help increase school districts capacity to improve school infrastructure. It is far past time to improve public education infrastructure.”

    You can learn more about the announcement here.

    Authored by Jason Hartke, Ph.D., Executive Vice President of External Affairs, International WELL Building Institute PBC (IWBI), originally appeared on IWBI’s website on January 16, 2024, and is reposted here with permission from IWBI

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