Schools Should Have Air Conditioners  

Air conditioners in Bangkok. This technology could really take off.

Photo by SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images

Baltimore County will be closing its public schools early today due to the unseasonable heat. We’re also seeing school closures widely in the midwest. And it really is hot. But all across the region things that aren’t schools are staying open thanks to the miracle of climate control technology. The fact that we can’t manage to get this done in our schools is laughably absurd.

Here in 2013 the unemployment rate is very high. It was very high in 2012. It was very high in 2011. It was very high in 2010. It was very high in 2009. And though only moderately high in 2008 it was clearly on an upward trajectory. At any time during this period having the federal government take advantage of low interest rates to borrow a bunch of money to hire a bunch of people to install air conditioners (and perhaps other appropriate insulation and energy efficiency measures) in public schools across the land should have been a nice easy win for the short-term labor market and the long-term education prospects of the country. Kids can’t learn well in overheated rooms, and kids also can’t learn well when schools aren’t open. More broadly, there’s evidence that school districts myopically underinvest in physical facilities as a general matter.

And of course appropriate weatherization of schools so that kids can be taught on hot days is a necessary first step to addressing the terrible toll summer vacation takes on poor kids and their families.

Basically every politician I’m familiar with—on the left, the center, or the right—likes to preach about the importance of education. And they should! It’s really important. But almost nobody seems to take it seriously on the most basic level. Important public services need to be able to operate consistently.