Civic Leadership

Warm, safe, and dry

Without buildings that are warm, safe, and dry, our students and teachers can’t do their best work. School facilities are the foundation for learning.

In the fall of 2017, as the start of school approached, a large section of the roof at Central Falls High School failed – causing water-logged classrooms and a two-day delay in the start of school. In May of 2018, an inspection revealed that deferred maintenance had left East Providence High school in extreme disrepair – putting educators and students at risk.

Sadly these stories are not the exception. The Rhode Island Department of Education identified more than $627 million in much-needed repairs and improvements to public school buildings in every corner of the state.

Without buildings that are warm, safe, and dry, our students and teachers can’t do their best work. School facilities are the foundation for learning. Numerous studies have shown that the condition of facilities impacts student performance and attendance, as well as teacher satisfaction, morale, attendance, and retention.

To address this urgent issue, the Rhode Island School Building Task Force was convened by state leaders. Foundation President & CEO Neil Steinberg was asked to serve on the group, alongside other key stakeholders.

The Task Force’s recommendations encourage Rhode Islanders to invest more and to invest smarter. With our current funding structure, school construction costs are largely the responsibility of localities with varying levels of state reimbursement. This system makes it hard for poorer communities to secure the funds needed to build new facilities and renovate old ones, resulting in many communities postponing millions of dollars’ worth of routine maintenance costs for years at a time. That is how we end up with collapsing roofs, non-functioning heating systems, and far too many missed school days.

As a result of the Task Force’s recommendation, and affirmation by the Rhode Island General Assembly, a bond measure was on the November ballot to authorize $250 million in bonds over five years—with no more than $100 million issued in any one year—in order to fund school housing aid and the school building authority capital fund.

With a “yes” vote on that bond measure, Rhode Island voters authorized the state to borrow and allocate funding that will improve learning conditions for students, and working conditions for educators.

This effort is an example of the kind of initiative that the Foundation supports through our Civic Leadership Fund. If you’re interested in civic engagement, you can join our efforts by contributing online or by mailing a check in any amount to One Union Station, Providence, RI 02903.