From NPR

Let's begin with a choice.

Say there's a check in the mail. It's meant to help you run your household. You can use it to keep the lights on, the water running and food on the table. Would you rather that check be for $9,794 or $28,639?

It's not a trick question. It's the story of America's schools in two numbers.

That $9,794 is how much money the Chicago Ridge School District in Illinois spent per child in 2013 (the number has been adjusted by Education Week to account for regional cost differences). It's well below that year's national average of $11,841.

Ridge's two elementary campuses and one middle school sit along Chicago's southern edge. Roughly two-thirds of its students come from low-income families, and a third are learning English as a second language.

Here, one nurse commutes between three schools, and the two elementary schools share an art teacher and a music teacher. They spend the first half of the year at different schools, then, come January, box up their supplies and swap classrooms.

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By T. R. Dunlap

Nobody should underestimate the importance of careful planning when schools engage in any operation or initiative. While many of us are eager to take an idea and run with it, the academic literature and case studies frequently remind us that planning cannot be ignored.  The research has indicated that the quality of a school's site-based plan is crucial to ensure positive implementation outcomes (Strunk, Marsh, Bush-Mecenas, & Duque, 2016), and other planning initiatives are equally invaluable. Whether a school is looking to build, expand, consolidate, or make changes in their operations, is it best to produce a planning document to clearly identify steps and describe the vision to others. Cook (2001) describes the important components in developing effective plans in his book Strategics: beliefs, mission, parameters, strengths, weaknesses, organizational design, competition, external analysis, critical issues, objectives, strategies, and priority actions.  These considerations can act as a template when educational planners begin their work to plan the future of their facility.

Facility planning for schools is a dynamic and challenging venture.  As educational planners, we have to be aware of the many stakeholders and competing interest involved in our planning initiatives. Whether you're an experienced planner or new to the enterprise of facility planning, the Education Facilities Clearinghouse (EFC) has been working to supply you with useful resources for your work. Our library and training tools feature some helpful planning document, and we've produced a video series on the important aspects of facility planning.  Educational facilities planning should include 5 major planning documents: educational facilities master plan, capital improvement plan, maintenance plan, energy and environmental management plan, and a safety and emergency operations plan.  To learn more watch the first video in our series on Education Facilities Planning.

To view the entire series, click here.

State and federal mandates for school systems require us to develop meaningful plans to establish vision and direction and demonstrate accountability with those in the community and governing authorities.  Federal mandates have also come with capacity building initiatives to help school leaders create and maintain effective plans.  For example, in light of the demands for schools to be ready in the event of emergency, the federal departments of State, Homeland Security, Justice, and Health and Human Services, along with the FBI and FEMA jointly produced the Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Planswhich is housed on the EFC website, to help schools establish a planning protocol and develop meaningful planning documents.  Similarly, the EFC has also been established by a federal grant to supply schools with technical assistance as school leaders begin and operate in the planning process.  As your school has need of help in planning activities, keep in mind the many resources that are available.

For additional planning resources, click here.

 

References

Cook, W. J. (2000). Strategics: the art and science of holistic strategy. Westport, Conn.: Quorum Books.

Strunk, K. O., Marsh, J. A., Bush-Mecenas, S. C., & Duque, M. R. (2016). The best laid plans an examination of school plan quality and implementation in a school improvement initiative. Educational Administration Quarterly, 52(2), 259–309.

Coalition for Healthier Schools, 2016.

Healthy schools help children grow and learn. But providing children with healthy places to learn is too often an afterthought—or not thought of at all. School facilities have been neglected for decades. Towards Healthy Schools: Reducing Risks to Children is the fourth in a series of triennial state of the states’ reports

from Healthy Schools Network and its partners in the Coalition for Healthier Schools, dating from 2006. Previous reports assessed state-by-state environmental health hazards at schools, offered compelling personal narratives from parents and teachers, and provided data needed to assess the subsequent impact on children’s health. The last report, Towards Healthy Schools 2015, went deeper into specific issues such as asthma, and fracking and well water, while also using federal poverty statistics—e.g., the number of children in a school eligible for free or reduced-price meals—as a proxy for poverty and to highlight essential inequities and injustices. It also highlighted how greener, cleaner, healthier schools promote attendance and achievement. Yet, no state publishes information regarding children at risk due to school and/or child care center environmental hazards. To drive home the national scope of the hidden environmental health crisis faced by children, this new report features published media reports on environmental conditions from every state in the nation. From Alabama, where Bay Minette parents threatened to keep their children home to avoid exposing them to asbestos, to Wyoming, where grass fires endangered students at South High, it is a disturbing summary, highlighting the fact that across the country teachers, parents, and guardians, and the children themselves, face numerous and serious unexamined and unaddressed risks to health and learning which are rarely acknowledged by public agencies.

By Art Stellar, Ph.D.

Many school districts have deteriorating school buildings. Most have unmet needs for major renovations and repairs. The reason these situations are left unaddressed is lack of funds. Regular operating budgets have little in preventive maintenance or repair accounts except for the gravest occurrences. Capital budgets pay off old bond issues or adhere to one significant issue at a time. States rarely provide funding for school buildings and then usually on a reimbursement basis. It can take two years to clearly articulate building needs and to generate sufficient local public support to pass a new bond referendum.

A good source of funds for school renovations is Qualified Zone Academy Bonds (QZAB). Yet, very few school administrators or officials know about QZAB. This includes school facility directors, business managers, bond attorneys, and school board members. This brief article provides an overview of QZAB and how QZAB can resolve lingering or anticipated school facility needs.

What is QZAB?                                                                                                                                                                    

QZAB is a zero interest, 25-year loan program US Congress has authorized since 1998 at $400 million per year for K-12 public schools. Early in 2016 there was a billion dollars available in the United States for eligible schools. The US Treasury Department determines the allocation of these funds to each state based upon a formula related to total population and income levels. To see your state’s allocations, visit www.qzab.org

Interested schools apply to their state departments of education who make decisions to allocate no interest QZAB funds to schools within their state. Usually the process is “first come, first served”, although some states have other procedures. Charter schools are generally eligible, if they meet the criteria.

The states issue approval letters, which can be used by the receiving school districts to sell bonds at the amounts specified. The school districts pay no interest on these bonds and, except for a couple of states, do not have to go to a public vote to “cash in” on the approval letters.

The sale of the bonds produces the actual QZAB funds for the school district. These funds have to be spent within three years of the issuance of the approval letter, although there are a few exceptions for less than three years depending on when the approval was conveyed.

The Federal Government offers tax credits to the institutions or individuals who purchase the QZAB bonds. The amount of the tax credit varies according to the overall bond market, but is typically worth between 4 to 5% of the bond and good for 25 years as a reduction of Federal taxes owed. These credits can be rolled over to future years and/or sold; hence, there is an important economic benefit to the buyer of the bonds.

Schools that gain approval of the QZAB bonds experience a real advantage of QZAB in their ability to issue no interest bonds. While schools pay different rates for bonds depending upon a variety of factors, most school districts are paying close to 5% interest on current bonds. Over the course of 25 years, a five percent interest charge can double the amount the school district pays. (Think of your 30-year home mortgage in which you pay 5 times the cost of your home by the time the mortgage is paid.) Also, due to inflation, the bonds are paid off with money that is worth less each year than the previous year. No interest bonds such as QZAB are like having “free money” since only the principal is paid.

Eligibility

A school must have 35% or more students on free/reduced meals or the reasonable expectation that there will be 35% to be eligible for QZAB funds. The “QZ” stands for Qualified Zone, which can also be a federally defined enterprise zone; however, the simplest means of determining eligibility is to identify those schools that meet the 35% or more free and reduced student criteria.

Use of Funds

The proceeds of the QZAB bonds can be used for these categories: facilities renovation, energy efficiency, curriculum, teacher training, technology, equipment, renewable energy, and/or academy expenses. QZAB funds cannot be used for buying land or for building new buildings. QZAB funds, however, can be used to cover interior and exterior costs, once the shell of a new building is paid for with other funds.

QZAB funds can be utilized to replace/repair roofs, windows, parking lots, physical education facilities, lighting systems, furnaces, plumbing, electrical work, air conditioning, etc. Security systems can be added. Technology can be purchased. Solar panels, wind generators, or geothermal units are all legitimate expenses. (For a complete list, contact me at artstellar@yahoo.com and ask for a planning guide).

A few states have peculiar biases or restrictions regarding the use of QZAB funds for certain kinds of technology, school buses, or what can be purchased for the academy. Contact someone with expertise and practical QZAB experience to confirm specific qualifications for the federal and state governments.

Required Federal Mandates (2 main requirements)

Some school districts do not pursue QZAB funds because they do not know how to meet the requirements. A vendor, who may attempt to sell a district bonds without mentioning requirements or deemphasizing them, has misinformed some districts. A few districts ignore or forget about federal mandates. State department personnel may overlook them due to being unaware or lack of attention to detail. There are federal legal requirements, however, which can get a district in trouble with the IRS when that agency audits a district’s spent QZAB funds.

It is not difficult to comply with the mandates, especially if a district uses a QZAB experienced nonprofit like the nonprofit National Education Foundation.

1) 10% Match Donation from a business or nonprofit of the total QZAB requested/approved. There are a variety of ways to meet this requirement, but the district has to document that the match is real and worthy of meeting at least ten percent of the total QZAB amount approved. The easiest method is to have a cash donation(s) or a donation from an organization that has already completed the research, like the nonprofit National Education Foundation, to justify to the IRS the value of the match donation.

2) Develop a NEW QZAB Academy for students designed and/or implemented in cooperation with the designated match partner to “better prepare students for college and workforce.” The “A” in QZAB stands for Academy which makes it hard to understand how some QZAB applications omit this key component or others involved in the process fail to notice when there is no academy. The IRS will hold the district responsible for this mandate.

The academy has to be NEW and not something the district has already been doing. An existing educational program will not be considered an academy just because it has been labeled an academy.

The term academy was not definitively defined when Congress originally approved QZAB. There does have to be an academy plan in place for any school site where QZAB funds are to be spent. The overall academy plan must be consistent with local, state, and Federal standards and curriculum. More states are including statements in their QZAB applications that make the academy a concrete educational program. A QZAB academy must be an observable and reasonable learning venture that meets the mission embedded in the QZAB legislation. Without an academy at a school site, QZAB funds cannot be spent there.

If a district is interested, it would be beneficial to research and make official inquiries as to the regulations as QZAB is often a funding source that is overlooked. Please visit the QZAB website to learn more. www.qzab.org

Summary

The QZAB or Qualified Zone Academy Bond program is a source hidden or unknown by most school officials. Fortunately, it is not as complex as it first may appear. QZAB is an excellent source of funds to address needed building renovations. At the same time a savvy school district can apply QZAB funds—matching and/or the bond proceeds directly—to establish a productive educational academy to raise student achievement. The key is to either intensively study QZAB or collaborate with a knowledgeable and experienced partner.

Dr. Art Stellar is Vice-President of the nonprofit National Education Foundation where he has assisted school administrators across the country in acquiring QZAB approval for over $120 million with at least that much currently in the pipeline. He served as a widely recognized superintendent for 25 years, as well as working for Renaissance Learning and leading the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation as president/CEO. He has served as president of ASCD, The Horace Mann League, and the North American Chapter of the World Council of Curriculum and Instruction; vice-president of the New York state PTA; and Chairman of the Board of Directors for the National Dropout Prevention Network and Center.

by Angel Ford, Ed.D.

In previous blogs, I have frequently discussed the inequities of school building conditions across America. This blog will also talk about those inequities in light of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Let’s start by examining what ESSA states about educational facilities.

A search of the ESSA bill reveals very few mentions of school facilities. Charter school facilities are mentioned a number of times as well as the school facilities for students residing on Native American reservations. There is a mention of facility management in the context of community schools, and we also learn from the bill how federal dollars will be allocated for technology upgrades in schools, but these funds cannot be used to retrofit the built environment to accommodate improved technology. Beyond these considerations, there is no comprehensive plan to address school facilities.

While ESSA does not directly address the inequities of school building conditions, U.S. Secretary of Education John King repeatedly makes a clarion call for equity in education. Mr. King has emphasized that ESSA can be used to achieve equitable outcomes. However, there is little clarity from reading the actual bill to indicate how ESSA will approach facility conditions for all students. School facilities are a key element of this country’s educational infrastructure, and yet, the condition of school buildings and classrooms are very inequitable. Over half of the school buildings are in need of repair to even be considered in satisfactory condition (NCES, 2014).

In his address to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Secretary King (2016a) stated that many students still have “less access to the resources necessary to thrive.” Although, at the time, he did not discuss directly the built environment, evidence suggests that adequate school building conditions and design are a crucial resource for all students. Secretary King (2016b) has also said, “persistent opportunity gaps undermine equality.” I couldn’t agree more! I would like to challenge education stakeholders to think about the unequal condition of our school buildings as a contributing factor that causes opportunity gaps.

Tanner (2015) conducted a meta-analysis of dissertations related to the effects of educational facilities. This study examined how school facilities correlate with student outcomes. He found that many factors of the built learning environment have statistically significantly relationships with student outcomes. These building factors include, but are not limited to, the quality and availability of natural light; design aspects such as quiet spaces, display spaces, green spaces, and storage spaces; climate control; and the overall condition of the school building.

Under ESSA, each state’s department of education will determine its implementation of the law, and every state will need to examine whether or not they are meeting the call for greater equity in education. Those of us concerned with the state of school facilities should make a strong effort to increase awareness that the conditions of physical learning environments are a sign of equitable treatment of students. Whereas ESSA doesn’t discuss facility conditions directly, the legislation does promote equity, and we know that school building conditions are not equitable currently. Now the remedy for this situation is at the state level, and we should let our local state representatives know that facility improvements are an educational priority.

Resources

National Center for Education Statistics. (2014). Condition of America’s public school facilities. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2014/2014022.pdf

Tanner, C. K. (2015). Effects of school architectural designs on students’ accomplishments: An meta-‐analysis.  Education Facilities Clearinghouse.

King, J. (2016a). Remarks Before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on the Nomination of Dr. John B. King Jr., to serve as Education Secretary. Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches

King, J. (2016b). What we ought to be: Educational opportunity, civil rights and the Every Student Succeeds Act. Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches

Dr. Angel Ford is a research associate with Education Facilities Clearinghouse (EFC).  Dr. Ford has previous experience working as a middle/high school administrator and actively participates in research and content management of the EFC website.

Mongeau, L., 2016

SCHUTES NATIONAL FOREST, Ore. — It was early evening in late May. Dinner was done and caper crews of students — “caper” is camp-speak for “chore” — had stacked the firewood into wheelbarrows, swept the dining hall floor, and (eew!) cleaned the bathrooms. The fading spring light slanted through the trees as the girls from Dogwood Cabin headed back to their bunks to practice their end-of-week skit.

“It’s not that bad,” a counselor the campers called Ivy told the 11- and 12-year-olds, nervous about their upcoming acting debuts. “I remember doing it when I went to camp. It’s actually fun.”

“Ivy” is really Kelsee Morgan, 16, a junior in high school. Like every girl in her tent, she attends school in Crook County, Oregon. And, like every girl in her tent, she went to this camp in May of her sixth grade year.

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By: Dr. G. Victor Hellman, Jr.

Green buildings, green cleaning, school gardens, and green playgrounds are just a few of the prevalent concepts on the mind of education facility planners and many educational administrators. Just what is this green movement all about? How does a school or a district go green? Is there a checklist that lets an administrator know they have reached the goal of a green school? The simple answer to these questions is that a school or district can do as little or as much as they desire. What is important is that they do something. We all must work together to take steps for a greener school. The terms “green” and “sustainability” are often used interchangeably, and these words imply the need for focusing on conserving resources and creating healthy environments for everyone. Green and sustainable facilities typically have lower life-cycle costs and can demonstrate that they are more energy efficient than their non-green counterparts. Lets examine some of the different ways a school or division can go green.

One way a school or division can go green is to construct facilities that are high performing and sustainable or renovate older facilities to bring them up to standard. The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) is not the only organization that recognizes sustainable facilities; however, it is probably the most widely known. The USGBC has established LEED awards for facilities that are considered high performing and sustainable. LEED is an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. While a commitment to a high performance building starts with the owner, it is the design team that includes the components into the new construction or renovation plan to qualify the facility for LEED. There are differing levels of LEED certification depending upon the number of features incorporated into the site and facility. The USGBC recognizes four different levels of LEED: certified, silver, gold, and platinum. The ratings are based on a point system, and facility owners should decide which level of certification they desire before the design or retrofit process begins. While LEED certification may result in higher design and construction costs, incorporating LEED features into a facility will ultimately lower the operational costs over the life of the building. For more information on LEED certification or the USGBC, please visit http://www.usgbc.org/leed .

Another tool to assist in going green is green cleaning. Green cleaning differs from traditional cleaning methods with regard to the solutions and equipment that are used to carry out the cleaning process. The green cleaning process does not utilize toxic chemical-based solutions that have often been used. These cleaning methods have been replaced with solutions such as ionized water. Mops and towels have been replaced with their micro-fiber counterparts. Higher costs and lower efficacy were once cited as reasons not to engage in the green cleaning process. As the solutions and equipment for green cleaning have advanced, these arguments are no longer valid. With the increased efficacy and the minimum or cost-neutral impact of green cleaning, this form of cleaning is something that every school and district should consider. In addition to these considerations, green cleaning is an environmentally friendly alternative to the caustic chemicals used in traditional methods of cleaning. By eliminating the chemical-based cleaners that have been used in the past, there has been a noted decrease in absenteeism from both students and staff. (Issa, Rankin, et.al., 2011)  Just as the decision to construct a high performing building rests with the owner, support from the top down to the custodial staff is essential to develop an effective, sustained green cleaning program. For more information on how to initiate a green cleaning program in your school or division, please visit: http://www.efc.gwu.edu//green-cleaning-series/ .

The final consideration for greening a school (although many more exist) that I will put forward is greening the school playground and/or installing an outdoor school garden. Greening the school playground will often incorporate a school garden, so we will discuss them together. One technique to create a green playground is to eliminate the concrete and asphalt and replace the surfaces with artificial turf or a similar product. Another greening method is called a natural playground. Natural playgrounds integrate features such as trees, bushes, and raised flowerbeds with slides, swings, and benches. Natural playgrounds have resulted in a decrease in violent behavior and an increase in attention (Loomis, 2008).  A school garden can be beneficial for the instructional curriculum as well as having positive effects in improving other site features such as drainage. Finally, schools that have gardens often use the food they grow in their food service program and can even utilize the crops as a source of revenue.

The United States Department of Education also recognizes the advantages of a school or division going green. On July 20, 2016, the Center for Green Schools and the USGBC recognized 47 schools and 15 districts for their outstanding efforts to go green. In addition to the K-12 honorees, 11 colleges and universities were honored with the Postsecondary Sustainability Award. I had the honor of attending the awards ceremony, and would submit to you that those receiving the awards did not go green for the award; instead they took their actions knowing that they were making a positive impact on our environment and reaping the many benefits of going green for their school community.

References:

Issa, M. H., Rankin, J. H., Attalla, M., & Christian, A. J. (2011). Absenteeism, performance and occupant satisfaction with the indoor environment of green toronto schools. Indoor and Built Environment20(5), 511-523.

Loomis, A. (2008). Natural Playgrounds. Sustainable Portland: Implementation Series, 49.

Dr. G. Victor Hellman, Jr., serves as the Research Project Director for the Education Facilities Clearinghouse (EFC). Victor has more than 31 years of work experience in public schools in Virginia. Prior to joining the EFC, he served as Deputy Superintendent of Operations and Support for a mid-urban school district. In that role, he was responsible for finance, facilities, transportation, student services, and food services.

 

by Angel Ford, EdD

Finnish students are excelling academically; in fact, they are passing students in most other nations.  This has not always been the case, however.  Over the past forty years Finland has made great strides to equalize and expand opportunities for their students, empowering them to become some of the top-performing students in the world.

A question we should be asking in America is: What types of educational reform did Finland institute in order to see the marked improvement in student achievement?  The answer is multifaceted and includes improved curriculum quality, increased access, and efforts to support the quality of instruction (Darling-Hammond, 2010).  However, the area of Finland’s reform I would like to highlight is that of improving the physical learning environments where their students learn.

Sparks (2012) explained that Finnish architects developed school building models based on evidence of effective learning spaces.  The architects focused on aspects of the built environment that motivate students and encourage learning.  These designs moved away from factory-style buildings with traditional classrooms to “contemporary campuses built to meet the pedagogical and social needs of their students and teachers” (Sparks, 2012).

Not only did the architects study and apply best practices in designing learning environments, they also worked in direct collaboration with teachers and administrators (Sparks, 2012).  Their designs included clusters of classrooms, areas to view the outside, appropriate lighting, and other building features that have been shown to improve student achievement and well-being.

Sparks (2012) stated that visitors to Finland would see beautifully designed, well-constructed, and thoroughly maintained buildings.  How would visitors to school buildings in American describe what they see?  Some of our schools could be described as attractive state-of-the-art buildings equipped with modern technology; unfortunately, many other schools would be described as drab, run-down buildings without even the basic resources necessary for 21st century learning.

What are we saying to students who attend school in dilapidated buildings?  Are we implying that their education is not important?  Or, are we letting them know that we are only fulfilling an obligation to provide four walls to house them for a certain number of hours every day?

Let’s learn from Finland, and let’s begin to equalize and expand the opportunities our students have by designing and retrofitting the places where they learn based on best practices and solid evidence of effective building designs.  The access students have to clean, well-maintained, and thoughtfully designed learning spaces should not be based on their socio-economic status or where they live in America.  Students from rural communities, students from urban communities and students from the suburbs should all have access to learning spaces that promote healthy living and that help them stay motivated to learn.

References

Darling-Hammond, L. (2010). What we can learn from Finland’s successful school reform. National Education Association. Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/home/40991.htm

Sparks, S. (2012). Finland rethinks factory-style school buildings. Education Week. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/07/06/36finland.h31.html

Dr. Angel Ford is a research associate with Education Facilities Clearinghouse (EFC).  Dr. Ford has previous experience working as a middle/high school administrator and actively participates in research and content management of the EFC website.

Bendici, R.

Historic schools in Boston, built before World War II, are finally receiving a facelift.

On the other side of the country, Carmel USD in California found that controlling and maintaining lighting in nine sites spread over 600 square miles can save energy and maintenance hours.And a 10-year deferred maintenance plan in Sycamore Community Schools in Cincinnati will ensure that statewide testing will be smooth and glitch-free.

Such projects represent just a fraction of construction work underway across the nation’s schools.

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Williams, L. (2014)

Administrators budgeting for construction have the tools and access to ensure their buildings’ shells—the roofs, windows and insulation—are energy-efficient and easy to maintain.

“School administrators have gone from not really thinking much about roofs and other exteriors to thinking how they can maximize the performance of buildings and lower costs,” Jared Blum, president of the Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association, told DA.

There are many issues to consider when selecting roofs, windows and insulation that lower energy costs.

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