Councilmember Kendra Brooks Convenes Statewide Coalition to Advocate for Safe Schools for All
HARRISBURG – Yesterday municipal leaders traveled from across the state to call for more funding to repair Pennsylvania’s aging school buildings. Led by Philadelphia Councilmember Kendra Brooks (At-Large), the group met with state-level officials to urge a $5 billion investment over 5 years to protect Pennsylvania students from exposure to asbestos, lead, and other hazards.
“My children, my grandchildren, and all of Pennsylvania’s children deserve safe schools where they can thrive,” said Councilmember Brooks. “With over $13 billion dollars in available funding, we can afford to make Pennsylvania schools safe for all children. We can afford to invest $5 billion over 5 years for their safety and their future.”
Pennsylvania currently has a budget surplus of over 8 billion dollars – the highest in state history – with an additional 5 billion dollars in the rainy day fund. The coalition of municipal leaders, including mayors, councilmembers, and school board members from across Pennsylvania, called for $5 billion to enable school districts to repair and modernize school buildings, to free up local educational dollars that are currently going to debt service, and to create building-trades jobs in local economies.
“In 2023, it is unacceptable to still have school buildings that go without air conditioning in the hot months, vital capital improvements that are financially out of reach, and conditions in schools that put the health and safety of our students at risk,” said Reading School Board Member Mark Detterline. “This union of leaders from across the state proves how far-reaching and immediate the need is. We all know that the Commonwealth has the resources and the ability to allocate the funds to remediate these issues – now is the time to do it.”
In addition to school board members from Reading, Allentown, and Philadelphia, the coalition included municipal elected leaders from Meadville, Lancaster, and Spring Township. Local leaders were joined by State Representative Elizabeth Fiedler, who hosted the press conference, as well as State Representative Carol Kazeem and State Senators Vincent Hughes and Tim Kearney. Senator Kearney and Representative Fiedler recently introduced legislation to restart funding for Plan Con, Pennsylvania’s program for funding school facilities, which has not received any new funding since 2016.
“Today’s event shows that the need for school building repairs isn’t just a Philadelphia issue,” said State Representative Elizabeth Fiedler. “In Erie, Lancaster, Scranton, Pottsville, and Pittsburgh, aging infrastructure and decades of inadequate funding have meant that maintenance on school has been deferred and delayed. But a leaky roof doesn’t fix itself. With billions sitting in the treasury, it’s finally time to invest in our children.”
66% of Pennsylvania schools were built before 1970 and likely contain asbestos. Over 100 schools in more than 30 Pennsylvania school districts have found lead in their drinking water in recent years. Because of the lack of state funding for facilities, school districts have been forced to take on high debt burdens and, in some cases, to close schools.
“We cannot stand idly by as our school facilities crumble and classrooms close because of toxic, damaged asbestos,” said Philadelphia Councilmember Jamie Gauthier (3rd District). “We are here in Harrisburg to advocate for the resources we need to ensure every student has a neighborhood school where they can learn safely and successfully. Our future is at stake, and we will not back down until our young people receive the investment they deserve.”
“We have an emergency as it relates to the state of our school buildings,” said Philadelphia Councilmember Isaiah Thomas (At-Large). “We’ve been working with education leaders in Philadelphia to create a plan. Today we’re in Harrisburg to demand more for every district in Pennsylvania.”
“If we want our young people to make academic progress, we need to give them the safe buildings they deserve!” said State Representative Carol Kazeem, who represents Delaware County.
“This is not just a city problem,” said State Senator Tim Kearney. “Schools across the state are in desperate need of repairs.” Senator Kearney represents Delaware County.
“It is criminal to have students and teachers in an unsafe environment!” said Allentown School District Board Director LaTarsha Brown. “This is the time to invest in our youth for a brighter future. We know the funding is there, and we are demanding that you be a change agent for education and support funding new public school buildings.”
“How can we expect our children to learn 21st century skills when their schools are over a century old?” said Lancaster Councilmember Ahmed Ahmed.
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