Access to equal and adequate education must include physical conditions conducive to learning and not threatening basic health. This is a long-standing and critical racial justice issue. The congressional infrastructure accord provides funding for many of the issues facing our country, but it fails to solve a glaringly urgent problem: national funding for school infrastructure.
The lack of federal funding dedicated to school capital needs has had a dangerous impact on the education and well-being of our nation’s children, especially students of color and low-income students, some of whom attend school. in dangerous establishments with reduced learning opportunities. When our lawmakers return from recess and move towards budget reconciliation, they must take serious action to correct this serious problem before our children suffer even more negative consequences.
Over the years, school infrastructure problems have multiplied, especially in school districts that primarily serve black students. In Baltimore, where about 76% of public school enrollment is black, schools have closed due to dangerous building temperatures, both extreme heat and freezing conditions. In 2016, more than 85 of Detroit’s roughly 100 schools were closed because a teacher-led protest raised concerns about schools with rodents, cockroaches, mold, holes in walls and ceilings. and an unstable heating system. Two years later, the district was forced to shut off drinking water in its schools – where more than 80 percent of students are black – when high levels of lead or copper were found in two-thirds of school buildings. tested. And a 2020 report on the almost all-black schools in the Mississippi Delta describes buildings with inadequate plumbing, flooded hallways, and crumbling walls, floors, and ceilings.
Black students, parents, and the civil rights community have fought for decades to highlight the impact of racial discrimination on school facilities and academic performance. In 1948, former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, founder of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), and the NAACP challenged a Texas school district’s efforts to relegate black students at school in former German war barracks, stressing that conditions were dangerous and unsanitary. The DFL argued that a significantly inferior secondary school for black children denied them equal protection under the law guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. And, in 1951, Barbara Johns led a student strike in Prince Edward County, Virginia to protest the poor conditions of her all-black public high school, declaring, “We’ve had enough of the tar paper shacks.” She would go on to become a plaintiff in the landmark Brown v. LDF Board of Education.
Nearly 70 years after Brown, many black students still attend highly segregated public schools characterized by unsafe conditions that are not conducive to learning – and sometimes threaten students’ physical and cognitive development. Persistent educational segregation, the link between race and economic discrimination, and schools’ reliance on property taxes for funding can result in sharp racial disparities in school resources.
Many schools – and disproportionately those that serve black students – have a high concentration of student poverty and an accompanying lack of resources, including resources for capital improvements or construction, as well as ‘a decades-old legacy of divestment to overcome. In 2017, 55% of black elementary school students in the United States were in very poor schools and 26% in medium-poor schools. This type of concentration of school poverty means a lack of local resources to meet the capital needs of schools.
Additionally, federal data on school facilities highlights chronic underinvestment in the education of black children. A study found that 60% of high poverty schools and 52% of medium or high poverty schools are in fair or poor condition, indicating that buildings have issues with air quality, air control temperature, water safety or similar issues. Schools in predominantly black communities are more likely to be located in areas with poor health conditions at the neighborhood level, such as waste transfer sites or exposure to highways impacting the quality of education. air, due to discriminatory environmental and land use practices. The lack of investment in American school facilities poses a serious threat to the health of students and educators and jeopardizes the ability to learn and thrive.
Despite this reality, there is no federal program that bridges the funding gap for low-income schools by providing resources specifically for the physical infrastructure of schools rather than for operating costs. Lawmakers should view the budget reconciliation process for the infrastructure package as a long-awaited opportunity to address this critical issue and provide $ 100 billion for targeted school facilities to reach the schools and students who have it most. need, as recommended by the American Schools Reopening and Reconstruction Act. .
All students, especially those of color who disproportionately suffer the consequences of underfunding school infrastructure, deserve safe and healthy learning environments. Anything less is unacceptable, unfair and an affront to the civil rights of students across the country.
Hamida Labi is Policy Advisor and Megan Haberle is Senior Policy Advisor for the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.