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Delaware Senate Democrats

Sen. Hansen Introduces Legislation to Set Standards for Delaware School Facilities

April 28, 2022

DOVER – Sen. Stephanie Hansen filed legislation on Thursday to create the first uniform standards for evaluating the physical condition and air quality at more than 200 schools and other educational facilities operated by Delaware’s public school districts.

“Nearly 140,000 children and 15,000 educators spend much of each day in our school buildings, yet there are no meaningful statewide standards for evaluating the safety, functionality, and cleanliness of those facilities, which makes prioritizing the need for specific repairs and maintenance nearly impossible,” said Sen. Hansen, D-Middletown. “As a result, we fall further behind on the repairs that are necessary to upkeep our school facilities every year while the costs of those repairs have ballooned to over $1 billion. The legislation I filed today will provide a pathway to developing a common standard and provide a healthy indoor environment in our school buildings throughout our state to better direct funding where it’s needed most.”

Currently, each of Delaware’s 19 school districts conduct their own internal needs assessments for school facilities with each district examining a different set of conditions at various frequencies based on their own internal standards. When deficiencies are found, funding requests from the districts for minor capital improvements valued at less than $1 million are submitted the Department of Education before being collectively presented to the Joint Capital Improvement Committee through DOE’s annual capital budget request.

Over the last decade, most capital improvement funding has been allocated to major capital projects, such as new school construction, with only $10 million to $15 million in state funds annually dedicated to minor capital projects statewide – minimal funding that makes it difficult for individual districts to keep up with maintenance on school buildings.

The total value of deferred minor capital improvement funding requested by the state’s school districts is currently estimated at more than $1.1 billion. More than 46% of that cost comes from projects sought by the Christina and Red Clay Consolidated school districts alone.

“Physical learning environments play an important role in a child’s overall education, with significant cognitive, behavioral, and health consequences for students of all ages. We need to prioritize funding to ensure school buildings are able to meet the needs of staff and students and are free from hazardous indoor pollutants and mold,” said Rep. Debra Heffernan, the House prime sponsor of Senate Bill 270 and co-chair of the Joint Capital Improvement Committee. “By creating statewide standards for evaluating the infrastructure and air quality of our educational facilities, we’re affirming what we know to be true; students and educators deserve to learn, grow, and work in a safe and healthy environment.”

SB 270 would specifically direct the Delaware Department of Education and the Delaware Division of Public Health to develop a series of school facility evaluation tools by January 1, 2024.

DOE, in consultation with the local districts and industry experts, would be charged with developing baseline standards each district would be required to meet at every school facility, including minimum specifications for water quality, fire safety, mold and mildew, structural integrity, mechanical and electrical systems, and sewer systems, among other categories.

School districts would be required to conduct inspections each year to ensure their facilities are meeting those standards and present the findings at a public school board meeting. Superintendents also would be required to submit the findings and a board-approved remediation plan to DOE and the Joint Capital Improvement Committee by May 1 each year.

DPH, meanwhile, would be charged with establishing a routine indoor air quality monitoring program for public school facilities, as well as mandatory temperature and humidity ranges for all public schools.

School districts would be required to institute routine air quality monitoring programs by Jan. 1, 2025, and be in full compliance with those programs by May 1, 2025. School districts unable to meet full compliance by the deadline would be able to seek an extension from the Secretary of Education. After the compliance deadline, all indoor air quality complaints would be reported at each school board’s next regularly scheduled meeting.

“A school is a place for education, and it’s also a place where kids can socialize and develop skills that will help them later in life. When it come to ensuring our schools are safe, structurally sounds, clean and welcoming, Delaware school districts have done much to ensure our school are safe, structurally sound, clean, and welcoming, without adequate funding or direction from the state, resulting in an estimated $1 billion dollars in deferred maintenance,” said Stephanie Ingram, president of the Delaware State Education Association. Delaware can do better. We know our members’ working conditions are our students’ learning conditions. Senate Bill 270 provides a process dedicated to prevention and reporting. This bill puts the minor capital funding needs of schools front and center during the capital budget process.”

SB 270 has been assigned to the Senate Education Committee.