Demands an immediate change in education policy to better support schools; Urges PA Department of Education to audit School District of Philly schools
PHILADELPHIA, January 29, 2016 – After touring an elementary school that had been forced this month to send students home due to failed heaters, Sen. Vincent Hughes, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, ordered state-level hearings to better understand the breadth of the crumbling school infrastructure problem in Pennsylvania.
Hughes toured Locke Elementary in Philadelphia this morning before telling reporters that he wanted elected officials to do more to help schools reverse a scary trend.
“Children cannot fear for their lives. They can’t learn in freezing classrooms, worry if a boiler might explode, and they can’t sit with 40 other classmates in classrooms designed for 25,” Hughes said.
“Yet more and more schools are in danger of tragic consequences because the policies of the past five years, coupled with the declining support of our schools by the state, are walking them towards that gauntlet.
“This is an outrageous situation and I know the schools in my district are not the only ones suffering right now. We must have a better idea of how many schools are hurting and we cannot wait another minute to find out.
“These are our children.”
Hughes said he wants his Senate Appropriations Committee to lead a public inquiry next week, and he said he welcomes participation from other interested lawmakers. Also, he said he wants the Pennsylvania Department of Education to audit School District of Philadelphia buildings.
Earlier this month, a boiler exploded in a Mount Airy school (Franklin S. Edmonds) during the school day. No students were injured but an employee was critically wounded.
Hughes said school infrastructures have been crumbling for generations, but only now is it reaching epidemic proportions.
“While the safety of our kids is of paramount importance, not giving our schools the resources to better care for their heating and air conditioning systems, their plumbing, and their playgrounds is robbing students of the quality education they deserve and everyone should demand,” Sen. Hughes said.
The Senate Appropriations Committee chairman said the School District of Philadelphia is strapped with a $5 billion backlog of maintenance and repair orders.
The 21st Century School Fund said schools, nationwide, had an estimated $271 billion list of deferred building and grounds maintenance in 2011.
“When the school structure falters, administrators are forced to choose between repairs or new textbooks. Studies have shown that adverse building conditions lead to increased absences, lower grades and a poorer outlook on life and their chances,” Hughes said. “That’s not what Pennsylvania is about. This must change.”