PHILADELPHIA, PA − May 29, 2019 − The union leaders and legislators who comprise the Fund Our Facilities Coalition today met at Richard Wright Elementary School to announce legislation sponsored by State Senator Vincent Hughes that would invest $85 million to make critical repairs to Philadelphia’s school buildings.
The dollar amount in Hughes’ companion bills–SB 555 and SB 556–represent exactly half of the$170 million the coalition has said is needed to address immediate health and safety concerns, and to ensure every Philly school building is safe, clean and healthy.
Funding for SB 555 would come in the form of a $125 million grant from several Commonwealth special funds with outstanding balances. SB 556 calls for a $125 million grant that would be funded from the current state budget surplus. With each bill, Hughes proposes directing $85 million to the School District of Philadelphia; $30 million to 134 school districts throughout the state with a significant number of students experiencing poverty; and $10 million to the remaining public schools in the state.
“We are in a position to fix a critical structural need and we cannot afford to lose this opportunity to provide thousands of teachers, students and school staffers with a healthy, safe environment each day,” Senator Hughes said. “The investments I am proposing would help fund the critical maintenance and repair and provide those conditions. We must act now and repair the unhealthy and unsafe conditions for the future of our students and our education system.”
The legislation calls for school districts to use the grant funding solely for the kinds of emergency repairs identified by the Fund Our Facilities Coalition. These include: lead and asbestos abatement or remediation; HVAC repair or replacement; electrical system repair or replacement, plumbing repair or replacement, roof and window repair or replacement; and other repairs or replacements that present a health or safety issue.
Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, which convened the coalition, applauded the bill as a major step in the right direction. “The bills sponsored by Senator Hughes send the message that the Fund Our Facilities Coalition is actively working and making real progress toward improving teaching and learning conditions in Philadelphia.”
One sure “yes” vote for the bill will come from State Senator Larry Farnese, who said SB 555 and 556 represent a “milestone” in the coalition’s efforts to improve school buildings. “The development of a solid and workable plan to fund our facilities and provide long-awaited upgrades that our schools need and our students deserve,” he said.
Several PA State Representatives attended the press conference, including Elizabeth Fiedler, a founding member of the coalition. Fiedler also announced that she will be introducing “companion legislation in the [PA] House to make this funding a reality for our schools.”
“Right now, our children spend their days in leaking buildings surrounded by lead, rodents and outdated electrical systems. This is outrageous and unacceptable,” said Fiedler, “I am so proud of the dedicated work that has brought us to this point. I would like to thank all of the coalition members and staff who are making Fund Our Facilities a reality.”
PA Representative Donna Bullock represents the neighborhood where Richard Wright Elementary, a school that has mold, asbestos and pest control issues, is located. She pointed out that when schools aren’t adequately and fairly funded, these inequities show up in overcrowded classrooms, underpaid teachers and crumbling schools. “The state has a responsibility to provide the resources to make every school building a clean and safe environment.”
Several members of City Council were also on hand to praise the work of Senator Hughes and the Coalition. Council President Darrell Clarke thanked Hughes and Fiedler for “pursuing a necessary course of action to ensure school buildings across the Commonwealth are safe for students, teachers, and support staff,” adding, “These bills must lead to the restoration of consistent, predictable PLANCON funding so that we never fall this far behind in our responsibility for Pennsylvania’s children ever again.”
The sentiments of all of the coalition members and press conference attendees were summed up by Representative Malcolm Kenyatta: “Our kids have waited long enough for learning environments that are safe and clean. Since the formation of the coalition we’ve worked at a state and local level to remedy the crisis in our schools. Now is the time to get it done and today’s announcement of significant money toward the outlined goal moves us in the right direction.”
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For more information on the Fund Our Facilities Coalition, visit PFT.org
Additional Reactions to SB 555 and SB 556 from Fund Our Facilities Coalition members:
PA Senator Tim Kearney (SD26): “Until we get honest about what public education costs for all children, we will continue to see the disparities we do in my 26th Senate District as well as across the Commonwealth. The very real and rising costs to meet federal and state mandates, coupled with continuous reductions in federal and state funding, creates unforgivable achievement gaps and building safety issues in districts that taxpayers alone can’t close. This appropriation is a step in the right direction to fully and fairly fund all public schools with facility improvements so all children can be successful.”
PA Rep. Jason Dawkins (HD179): “Investing in our schools and in our communities should be a priority for all of us in Philadelphia. I am so glad that Sen Hughes and all my colleagues, who stood up and made our voices heard in March of this year, can stand here again with the PFT and announce that we have achieved part of our goal. This is a huge step in the right direction, and I look forward to doing even more in the future to improve schools for our kids and our teachers.”
PA Rep. Mary Jo Daley (HD148): “Investment in education has the ripple effect of enhancing our community as a whole, and this investment starts with providing educators and students with the proper resources to be successful. It is a sham to expect high performance in buildings which contain hazards such as lead, asbestos, and mold. We must increase funding for infrastructure in Philadelphia schools.”
PA Rep. Mary Isaacson (HD175): “No parent should have to worry that the school they are sending their children to is literally making them sick. Every child in the Commonwealth has the right to a quality public education in an environment that is safe, healthy and clean. I am committed to working with the PFT to fully fund our facilities and invest in the health and wellness of our students.”
PA Rep. Jared Solomon (HD102): “In our Philadelphia Platform, we acknowledge the vital importance of securing more funds for schools in Philadelphia so that all our young students can learn in a school building that is safe from all health hazards. I am honored to be a part of the coalition helping to make this a reality and commend its leaders and Senator Hughes for identifying the revenue to do so.”
PA Rep. Brian Sims (HD182): “It’s time that our schools and our children get the necessary funds for the education that they deserve. For too long our public schools have suffered from dwindling investment and we’ve depended on teachers and parents to try and fill the gap. We need to not only fund our facilities for a safe and healthy learning environment, we need to go further by investing in our future- the education of our children.”
City Councilmember Mark Squilla (1st District): “I am pleased to be part of this collaborative effort to fund the much needed repairs in our public school facilities. This is a good start to ensuring that our students are in the best environment to excel academically.”
City Councilmember Helen Gym (At Large): “The facilities crisis in our schools is a profound and outrageous injustice. At the beginning of this school year, Philadelphia children saw their school days shortened, struggling through heat indexes of 100, while children in the wealthiest school districts—Lower Merion, Radnor—went to full-day learning. This bill is an important step towards investments in the school buildings and quality education our children deserve.”
City Councilmember Derek Green (At Large): “Senate Bill 555 [and 556] is helping to set so many children up for success across the Commonwealth. Thanks to the leadership of State Senator Vincent Hughes and the support of Gov. Tom Wolf, along with the Fund Our Facilities Coalition, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, the Philadelphia Healthy Schools Initiative and other advocates, we are now able to ensure our kids are being put first in education, in safety, and in wellbeing.”
City Councilmember Cherrelle Parker (9th District): “The legislation being put forth by Sen. Hughes is essential in helping us to secure the funds necessary to ensure that all children in Pennsylvania have a safe, warm and clean school. The average age of School District of Philadelphia buildings is 66 years compared to 42 years nationally. I urge the General Assembly to support our children by adopting this legislation, which utilizes surplus funds for a critical cause. If we want our children to be competitive in a global economy, we must start with by giving them an adequate place to learn.“
Philly AFL-CIO President Pat Eiding: “I’m proud to stand with PFT and this coalition in support of Senator Hughes’ legislative proposal. Our children can’t wait any longer, and the $85 million Senator Hughes has identified will enable long overdue repairs in our schools. We must fund our facilities immediately so that our students, educators, and all staff have a safe environment in which to learn and work.”
Ashley McBride, For Our Future PA: “For Our Future PA has spent hundreds of hours engaging constituents across Philadelphia. We know all too well that the failure to invest in our school facilities ranks as the number one concern not just for parents and teachers, but all constituents in Philadelphia. Without critical repairs, students grapple to thrive and learn in unsafe environments. We proudly stand with the Fund Our Facilities Coalition to fight for the health and well being of all students and educators.”