Survey: School administrators report correlate greener buildings with better student achievement

Ironically, data shows that many school energy-efficiency projects have been delayed or shelved because of the economic downturn.

How's this for a classroom brainteaser? If close to 90 percent of school leaders believe there is a direct link between the quality of their facilities and academic performance, how many school districts are actually doing something about it?

You would hope almost the same amount, but the reality is that many school districts have either delayed or cut planned building improvements because of state budget crunches and the economic downturn. In fact, close to 70 percent of schools apparently have put the squelch on energy efficiency projects and other building improvements, according to new data from Honeywell .

The survey data I'm citing comes from the second annual "School Energy and Environment Survey," sponsored by Honeywell and conducted among nearly 800 school administrators and school board members.

Approximately one-quarter of those surveyed, ironically, say that their energy costs have risen at least 25 percent over the past year, compared with 17 percent who said the same in 2009. Those increased costs have translated directly into cuts in capital investment and staffing.

This is a chicken-and-egg cycle, of course. Intuitively, districts are interested in controlling utility costs, which are typically the second highest expense in school budgets. But more than half of the schools surveyed by Honeywell report that they don't have the money for those retrofits. Thus, they have to cut elsewhere as electricity and water costs rise.

Says Paul Orzeske, president of Honeywell Building Solutions, which is the company's division focused on building efficiency projects and performance contracts:

"Administrators are pulled in a thousand different directions, and most districts don't have the expertise or resources to make green initiatives a priority—especially when the financial benefits aren't clear. However reducing a district's carbon footprint is not just a feel-good exercise. With the right mix of technology and service, these programs can deliver a substantial environmental and economic return."

To me, this data is demonstrative of the very short-term investment view we seem to embrace with respect to school improvements. It is indicative of the lingering public perception that attention to green initiatives are a waste of money. Sure, they may represent a short-term investment, but for schools they could represent a very real shift in terms of how public funds are allocated.

Would you prefer that your local taxes go toward paying your school's electricity and water bills, or would you prefer that they go into improving academic performance. For me, this is not a multiple choice answer.

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