Schools’ Infrastructure in Crisis as Climate Changes

by Vins
Published: Updated:

In June 2021, the Hechinger Report’s Victoria Petersen reported that most US school facilities are in dire need of repair and will not be able to sustain the damages caused by worsening weather due to climate crisis.​ The article reported data from the US Government Accountability Office which highlighted that over half of the country’s school districts need repair, and as research shows, students do not learn as well when in poorly kept buildings. As global warming continues to worsen, these issues will only grow in magnitude, severely impacting the quality of US students’ education. The article uses an Alaskan school district as an example, looking at the repairs that need to be made, as well as how these problems continue to worsen over time.

The Hechinger Report delves into several Alaskan school districts where failing school infrastructure prevents community members from being safe in an extreme weather event. According to data from a March 2021 produced by the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Institute of Social and Economic Research, Alaska spends roughly a third of the recommended amounts to properly maintain and expand its school facilities. Kachemak Selo, a village on the Kenai Peninsula closed its high school for several weeks in December 2020, “because it was raining in the building”(Kevin Lyon, Kenai Peninsula Borough School District director). About 170 miles from Kachemak Selo on the Kenai Peninsula rests the town of Seward. Seward is a beautiful, rural town that is ribboned by the Kenai Fjords, glacier flows from the Kenai mountains. The constant glacial outpours make Seward a “pretty hazardous place to live” according to Stephanie Presley, program lead for the Seward-Bear Creek Flood Service Area. These dangers extend to Seward’s public schools. Recent Seward High School graduate Selma Casagranda said of Seward’s schools “There’s just a lot of stuff that goes unfixed, and if something were to happen, I don’t know what we would do.” Alaska is not the only state in America that needs substantial infrastructure funding.

The topic of US education infrastructure and climate change has been touched upon in recent 2021 news. In November 2021, for instance, Forbes outlined the passage of a new infrastructure bill which includes some funding for climate-related initiatives for schools, such as “zero-emission buses.” However, Forbes’s coverage failed to include rural areas in its analysis of the infrastructure bill’s scope. ABC News covers the topic of school climate change initiatives being enforced; but only reports on the devastating climate effects occurring in US states with large populations and high taxes, such as California. ABC’s report used the example of a California mudslide to illustrate the need for the new climate change initiatives, but it, too, overlooked the obstacles confronting the nation’s schools in rural communities. Neither Forbes nor ABC News addressed cases such as schools on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, where school buildings are progressively deteriorating due to climate change, and the state’s insufficient tax revenues leave communities unable to restore and rebuild.

Source: Victoria Petersen, “Climate Change Threatens America’s Ragged School Infrastructure,” The Hechinger Report, June 27, 2021

Student Researchers: Mackenzie Butler, Riley Saccoach, and Ryan Shea (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)