Posted by Jerri Derlikowski on October 15th 2013
State funding for school facilities should be increased to meet the needs of all districts. The official standard, that facilities need only be warm, safe, and dry, is not good enough.
According to a new report by Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, the quality of school facilities can have a major impact on the education that our children receive and whether they succeed in school. Research, court decisions, and states have long recognized that disparities in access to basic school facilities can lead to differences in educational outcomes, especially for low-income students.
According to the report, "Why School Facilities Matter: And what we can do to fix the disparities," all students should have access to a high-quality learning environment.
"In some wealthier zip codes in the state, students have access to state-of-the-art facilities that promote hands on learning, " says Jerri Derlikowski, author of the report and Director of Education Policy and Finance at AACF. "They have things like television broadcast facilities, performing arts centers, and health careers rooms with computerized college quality equipment. That's not always the case for lower-income districts."
According to the report, students in low property-wealth areas of the state are typically educated in outdated, no-frills facilities that do no more than meet minimal state standards for being warm, safe, and dry. They often do not have access to state of the art facilities that do more to enhance learning. This creates an opportunity gap that limits the success these students can have in the competitive environments of college and careers. These inequities don't just occur from one side of the state to the other. They occur within the same county and even within the same school district.
The report is accompanied by a 15-minute video aimed at highlighting why the state of school facilities is so important. The film was produced by Bailey Perkins, a graduate student at the University of Oklahoma who spent the summer as an intern for AACF. The goal of her internship was to examine school facility disparities in the state and develop recommendations with local stakeholders for more equitably resourcing school buildings state-wide.
"This project was an eye-opening experience and one that taught me the importance of investing in our public school facilities," Perkins says. "A quality educational environment should be available to all of our students, not just the districts that can afford it. Our lawmakers need to take a stronger role to ensure that our school facilities are more than just 'warm, safe, and dry.' They need to be equitable and fair and provide innovative learning environments that prepare ALL students to thrive in an evolving and globalized world."
The report offers recommendations to lawmakers, including an increase in the state's investment in school facilities funding. Richard Hutchinson, co-chair of the Arkansas Opportunity to Learn Campaign says funding should be increased to meet the needs of all school districts.
"The standard of warm, safe, and dry is far too low to set the bar for determining adequacy," Hutchinson says. "The state needs to assess and redevelop minimum facilities needs for today's students in the age of technology. All students deserve equitable opportunities to learn-opportunities to enter college or a career on a level playing field with their peers."