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Letter to Senator Harkin on the Government Accountability Office study of school construction

January 15, 2014

Dear Senator Harkin:

On behalf of the three million members of the National Education Association and the students they serve, we urge you to support having the Government Accountability Office investigate the condition of America’s schools – the U.S. government’s first comprehensive look at the physical condition of our nation’s nearly 100,000 primary and secondary public schools in 15 years. 

Even as public school enrollment is growing – and expected to continue growing through 2019 – state and local funding for school construction is declining. The need to modernize and repair public schools is especially acute in low-income communities. Our nation invested approximately $10 billion in school construction in 2012, half the amount spent prior to the Great Recession.  

More than 40 years old on average, our nation’s public schools need an estimated $500 billion in repairs and upgrades. Today’s students are housed in yesterday’s buildings with out-of-date technology and often unsafe, crumbling infrastructures. Consider these examples, just a small sample of the stories told by NEA members across the nation:

  • We teach our students that technology is changing and improving every day. That is hard for them to grasp while using refurbished desktops from eight years ago, in a building with a connection “speed” that frustrates even the most patient learner.
  • Our school is mostly portable buildings, and they are 21 years old. The buildings creak with each of our footsteps, and the louvers over the windows won’t stay open. Therefore, the room is always dark and windowless.
  • Our carpet is threadbare, stained, and approaching 40 years old, but can’t be replaced because there is an asbestos issue we can’t afford to address.

Astonishingly, we are unable to define the full scope of the problem due to lack of information. The last comprehensive GAO report on school facilities was done in 1995.  

Every student deserves a safe and healthy school. An accurate picture of the current condition of our school buildings is essential to the effort to modernize and revive them – for planning purposes and to ensure that limited resources are expended on the students most in need. We urge you to support having GAO immediately begin work on a report that furnishes the necessary information.


Mary Kusler
Director of Government Relations