November 14, 2021

Nancy Bailey: America Cannot Build Back Better and Address Equity If Crumbling, Dangerous School Buildings Are Ignored!

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Nancy Bailey underlines the importance of infrastructure and the various threats to safe schools in any attempt to revitalize US schools. Reposted with permission.

Our public schools should be safe, welcoming places, that support the work of teachers, cherish students, and provide a climate and atmosphere conducive for learning.

Our public schools should be the pride of our nation!

We are all to blame for not caring enough to demand great public schools for all of our children, a huge equity issue! Wake up to the fact that children, mostly poor, in this country are attending dangerous school buildings that could make them sick.


How many schools [are there] where the kids can’t drink the water out of the fountain? How many schools are still in the position where there’s asbestos? How many schools in America we’re sending our kids to don’t have adequate ventilation?

~President Biden as a candidate for the presidency Education Week March 31, 2021.


Wall Street celebrated as stocks soared to record highs due to the passage of President Biden’s infrastructure plan, which makes no mention of school infrastructure.


The evidence is clear. No matter how good the curriculum, the teachers or administrators, we can’t achieve world-class education with crumbling school facilities. Yet that is where we are. Every national, state and local policymaker should know the extent of this massive underinvestment and its all-pervasive, cascading effects on the health and education of students, teachers, staff, and our communities.

~2021 State of Our Schools p. 7.


Education Secretary Miguel Cardona crooned on Twitter about high-speed internet and electric school buses. But educators, parents, and students had little reason to smile. The House of Representatives had quietly removed the $100 billion to fix America’s schools.

Here’s the plan that passed. There’s no mention of schools.


Our children deal with lead, asbestos, and mold. We had to start school weeks later than schools in the suburbs because we don’t have air conditioning and classrooms can reach 90 degrees or higher on our hottest days, which are becoming more and more frequent. We have windows that don’t open fully. Even now we struggle with the basics of functioning cafeterias, bathrooms that don’t flood, and roofs that don’t cave in.

~Helen Gym, Philadelphia city council member In US News and World ReportDemocrats Quietly Nix Biden’s $100B for School Modernization From Infrastructure Package.


Even with the pandemic, when a huge problem included run-down HVAC systems when story after story highlighted the long-time poor conditions of America’s schools and how they’d been ignored, America has once again turned its back on its children!

Talk to the teachers who before the pandemic worried about dangerous schools, substandard buildings that exposed students and themselves to bad air, and overcrowded conditions where they struggled to keep students safe.


Last August, Brookings published The danger of America’s forgotten battle with asbestos.

It’s hard to see Brookings as public education’s friend, but they’re good at telling us how bad the buildings have become. They’re right!

A 2015 survey shows where asbestos is found in the classroom and indicates that more than two-thirds of 5,309 local education agencies in 15 responding states have schools that contain asbestos.

Don’t forget private schools and charters in old buildings which could face the same facility dangers.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, exposure to asbestos can increase the risk of developing:


The White House holds out its lead-pipe proposal as a generation-changing opportunity to reduce brain-damaging exposure to lead in 400,000 schools and child care centers and 6 million to 10 million homes. It’s also an effort that the administration says can help create plenty of good-paying union jobs around the country.

~ABC News, The problem within: Biden targets lead pipes, pushes equity

Can anyone find any mention about lead pipes now that the Biden Build Back Better infrastructure plan has passed?

When I make a mistake I am quick to apologize and note it.

I am happy to report that the White House and Secretary Miguel Cardona are reporting that the infrastructure bill does include addressing clean drinking water. This is good news!


President Biden’s pledge to rid the country of lead pipes was criticized as a massive undertaking.

Lead causes learning disabilities in children.

From Boston’s Children’s Hospital.

Lead poisoning can affect just about every system in the body but often produces no definitive symptoms. Common symptoms of lead poisoning in children include:

  • behavior and learning problems
  • slowed growth
  • hearing problems
  • anemia
  • irritability
  • loss of appetite
  • fatigue


If schools have leaks and water problems, they’ll likely also has a problem with mold.

Here’s a mold fact sheet. 

Where is mold found in schools?

  • portable classrooms
  • leaky roofs
  • pipes
  • windows
  • foundations
  • structural openings
  • books
  • carpeting

How does mold become a problem?

  • high humidity
  • no air conditioning
  • no heat
  • moisture
  • misdirected sprinklers
  • condensation

Mayo Clinic describes the problems surrounding mold allergies.

  • Sneezing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Cough and postnasal drip
  • Itchy eyes, nose and throat
  • Watery eyes
  • Dry, scaly skin

Mold allergy and asthma symptoms can be triggered by exposure to mold spores, and may cause a severe asthma attack. S

Signs and symptoms of asthma include:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness


School overcrowding is a huge issue, contributing to discipline problems, student attention problems, and teacher turnover. It was much more difficult to open overcrowded schools during the pandemic, understandably.


We said, shame on Betsy DeVos in 2019 for not caring about crumbling school buildings. When asked then about Democrats who claimed to be proposing $100 billion for fixing school infrastructure she said:

Well I think it’s an interesting proposal. A very costly one at that. I think what I would actually advocate for is giving more students and more parents more freedom and choices to find the right fit for their child’s education. I think we are going to make more progress and have more gains in student achievement if students are able to find schools and education environments that work specifically for them. 

Now DeVos is gone but most policymakers on both sides have chosen to ignore public school infrastructure. Once again, America casts aside its commitment to children in their crumbling schools. If you’ve ever worked in a run-down facility or had to send your children to one, you will understand the frustration—shame on them.


Blad, E. (2021, March 31). Biden Infrastructure Plan Calls for $100 Billion for School Construction, Upgrades. Education Week.

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