A 3rd of schools found to need major repair 72% of D.C.'s schools need new walls, GAO says

June 26, 1996|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE Sun staff writer Mike Bowler contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- A new federal study has found that a third of America's schools are in need of major repair, reigniting a debate over who should pay the estimated $112 billion bill.

About 60 percent of America's 80,000 elementary and secondary schools need at least some work on major building features, such as a roof, floor or wall, the General Accounting Office survey found.

And in almost every state, more than half of the schools reported that they were an "inadequate environment for learning" because they lacked proper plumbing, lighting or ventilation.

The report found Maryland in the middle range of a state-by-state ranking of deficiencies. Thirty-one percent of the state's 1,254 public schools were judged "inadequate," while 67 percent of school buildings had at least one inadequacy.

Twenty-nine percent of Maryland schools had poor ventilation, while 20 percent had inadequate air quality, the report said. It did not identify the deficient schools.

Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois and other Democrats said the federal government, which provides only 2 percent of all education funds, should supply the repair money.

"We need a partnership between the federal and state and local governments, because this is indeed a national problem," Moseley-Braun said.

But a spokesman for Rep. John Edward Porter, the Illinois Republican who heads the House subcommittee that oversees federal spending on schools, said the federal government cannot afford the repair bill.

"At a time when this country is running deficits in the $200 billion a year range, it's not a time to talk about expanding funding," said Dave Kohn, Porter's spokesman.

The GAO concluded that state governments spent just $3.5 billion -- about 3 percent of what was needed -- on school repairs in fiscal year 1994.

Only 15 states have a system in place for keeping track of the condition of schools, the agency noted.

The levels of physical deterioration varied from state to state, but cut across all social, ethnic and economic sectors. In urban areas, 38 percent of schools reported at least one inadequate building. In rural areas, it was 30 percent and in the suburbs, 29.

The nation's capital had the worst record in the study. Sixty-seven percent of the District of Columbia's schools reported needing a new roof and 72 percent needed new walls.

In 1993, Moseley-Braun sponsored the Education Infrastructure Act of 1994, which passed the then-Democratic-controlled Congress and provided $100 million in grants to repair school buildings. But those funds were eliminated as part of budget-balancing measures in 1994 when the Republicans took over Congress.

Pub Date: 6/26/96

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