School modernization legislation calling for improved classroom acoustics and reduced exposure to environmental noise has been introduced into the U.S. Senate, but observers expect lawmakers to take little or no action on the measure.
ASHA successfully pressed for inclusion of two important stipulations in the funding bill: That funding can be used to reduce noise pollution and that school construction comply with classroom acoustics standards of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which oversees the creation, promulgation, and use of thousands of standards and guidelines. ANSI revised its classroom acoustics standards in 2010; all ANSI standards, however, are voluntary, and become mandatory only if incorporated into laws such as building codes.
ANSI classroom acoustics standards call for limits on interior-source noise; clarify measurement and evaluation of noise; and require classroom audio distribution/amplification systems.
Regardless of a bill's prospects, ASHA often works with congressional representatives and staff on legislation of interest to communication sciences and disorders professionals and the clients they serve. Through these opportunities, ASHA builds relationships and awareness of critical issues.
The recent effort to legislate classroom acoustic standards began in September with the release of President Obama's American Jobs Act, a mix of spending, tax cuts, and other measures intended to stimulate job growth. The measure is expected to be defeated.
Included in the proposal was funding for a new school modernization program. As called for in similar legislation introduced in previous congresses, the funds are intended to modernize school buildings and improve the health and safety of school personnel and students.
Later in September, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced a stand-alone version of the school modernization proposal, the "Fix America's Schools Today (FAST) Act" (H.R. 2948). However, unlike previous school modernization/construction bills, the House bill does not allow state and local school agencies to use the funding to "reduce human exposure to environmental noise pollution," nor does it recommend that new school construction adhere to the ANSI classroom acoustics standards.
Following the introduction of the House bill, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) indicated his intent to sponsor similar legislation in the Senate. After ASHA noted the two missing provisions in the House bill, Brown's staff immediately included them in the Senate bill (S.1597), which was introduced in late September.
In a letter to Brown [PDF] thanking him for his support, Paul Rao, ASHA president, noted that noisy classrooms affect "speech understanding, reading and spelling ability, behavior in the classroom, attention, concentration, and academic achievement. Learning in an excessively noisy environment is similar to trying to read in a poorly lit room or obstruction by steps while in a wheelchair." ASHA members in Ohio also may want to contact Brown to thank him for including the provisions and to inform him of acoustical conditions of schools in the state.
ASHA predicts that, because of upcoming congressional and presidential elections, lawmakers will take little or no action on these bills. ASHA will, however, continue to inform elected officials and their staff members that classroom noise and poor acoustics act as unseen barriers to learning.