Picture a lush lawn surrounding a beautiful, pristine school building. The school has massive windows so that students can enjoy the scenery outside, uses the newest educational technology available, and has scheduled even more additions to enlarge the facilities.
Who wouldn’t want to attend—or work at—a school like this?
Unfortunately, state-of-the-art facilities like these come at a high cost. State and local governments have been spending close to 60 billion dollars on facilities in public schools.
But, despite an increase in spending, school conditions have not gotten better.
The question is, where does the budgetary line get drawn? What is too much to spend on facilities? Who gets to make these decisions?
Since parents and other taxpayers are the ones paying for schools, they have to right to ensure that their children are getting the best education and that the budget is being put to good use.
How Facilities Impact Students
The term “facilities” includes air quality, temperature, acoustics, lighting, classroom space, and building structure.
The learning environment undoubtedly affects students. But how much do these factors influence the ability to learn?
Penn State claims that new facilities are essential for the health of students and faculty. Not only do better facilities attract more teachers, but they increase students’ chances of engaging in learning.
Should facilities be the top priority of school budgets? This is an important consideration. Data seems to indicate that—while facilities play a key role in education—they are not solely responsible for learning.
In fact, students appear to be losing critical thinking skills in spite of facility and technology advances. Jonathan Haber, the author of Critical Thinking, noted, “Content that once had to be drilled into students’ heads is now just a phone swipe away, but the ability to make sense of that information requires thinking critically about it.”
Unfortunately, critical thinking doesn’t seem to be happening.
According to Haber, “75 percent of employers claim the students they hire after 12, 16 or more years of formal education lack the ability to think critically and solve problems — despite the fact that nearly all educators claim to prioritize helping students develop those very skills.”
Instead of learning how to problem solve, students often start to rely on their environment or school-supplied technology to get anything done. Many develop shorter attention spans as they think everything should entertain them.
Rather than overspending to create the best facilities and offer the latest gadgets, perhaps more resources should be put toward improving students’ ability to reason.
How Facilities Impact Teachers
Teachers need a healthy work environment to feel motivated. A school’s budget plays a key role in determining the available facilities…which in turn has a huge impact on the teachers of the school.
Some research has shown that schools in poor condition impact a teacher’s wellbeing. Insufficient work environments make instructors feel less effective and less confident. Often, teachers in deteriorated facilities do not show up to work and are unsatisfied with their jobs.
More than half of teachers said that their work environment has negatively impacted their mental health. On the other hand, well-maintained buildings lowered the teacher turnover rate by twenty-five percent.
Based on these statistics, it appears that functional and healthy facilities are key to attracting and keeping good teachers. So, who gets to make the final decisions about school conditions?
Budgeting for Facilities
Funding for public schools comes from the federal, state, and local governments. However, what is done with that budget largely depends on the school board, which makes most of the decisions for the school.
Since school board members are elected, their budgetary decisions should reflect the ideals of voters.
However, a survey from The Heritage Foundation showed that school board elections do not typically have a very good voter turnout. While school board members often share a ballot with candidates for President, Vice President, and Congress, most people do not know anything about their local school board members. Often, a voter’s only exposure to school board candidates is the moment they walk past the teacher’s union table before voting.
In other words, citizens have the power to help decide how local public school budgets are spent…but often they are not sure how to help.
At the end of the day, the best way is to hold school boards accountable by voting and participation.
It’s easy to say that schools in poor conditions just need more funding. However, as Andrew Coulson from The CATO Institute shared, school spending has no demonstrated connection to student outcomes. Taxpayers have been spending more, but schools are in the same conditions.
What is happening to the money?
As The Heritage Foundation reported, despite how much has been spent on public schools—which has been in the trillions nationwide—there is still a monumental educational gap between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds.
The Heritage Foundation’s founder, Edwin J. Feulner, has this to say: “When good money has been thrown after bad for years, if not decades, you have to ask yourself whether the programs you’re funding even work.”
Taxpayers—especially parents—ought to be checking on schools to see what’s happening.
One way to influence education is by voting for the school board members. Parents can also get involved with school functions and start regular meetings with faculty and the school board. Being present in the school helps parents stay informed about what is being taught to their children. As parents and other citizens engage, they can help decide what is appropriate and necessary for facilities.
The education system having more power is not the solution.
While the picture of a pristine school may be tempting, it should not replace a focus on learning. While an increase in funding may seem to be the obvious solution to improving schools, sometimes the budget just needs to be reallocated to true learning priorities.
That’s what we’re all about here at the Noah Webster Educational Foundation. We want to make it easier for you to engage with your local government and school system—whether you’re a parent, educator, legislator, or simply a concerned citizen.
Curious how you can make a difference? Join in the conversation today on social media (see links located at the top of this page), or learn about more ways you can help by visiting our website at www.nwef.org.