Democrat Lawmakers Push for School Repair Funding

HARRISBURG PA – Two state legislative proposals intended to address immediate and long-term repair needs at what Democrat legislators described as “hazardous and toxic schools across Pennsylvania” were publicly introduced during a virtual media conference Thursday (Feb. 18, 2021) attended by Senate and House members.

Those in the group claimed that aging school buildings “pose many health hazards” including lead in drinking water, asbestos in cracked floor tiles, mold outbreaks in classrooms, broken boilers in the winter, and no air conditioning in the summer. Rural, suburban, and urban communities all “face daunting challenges” in education and health as a result, Sen. Vincent Hughes said.

The group also pointed to local economic benefits that could arise from jobs created for the repair work.

It sought to build support for recently unveiled initiatives to push for significant investment in school infrastructure. “Our coalition is powerful,” Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler added. “Together, we are committed to investing state dollars in our public buildings and giving communities across Pennsylvania the schools they deserve.”

The first proposal, they said, would expand the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program by $1 billion to help address health hazards in public school buildings. Gov. Tom Wolf offered that proposal as a priority in his recent 2021-22 budget address. It would need bipartisan support for inclusion in the spending plan.

“Make no mistake, these same hazardous and toxic conditions exist in communities represented by the Republican caucuses,” Hughes observed.

The second proposal would create a Public School Building Emergency Repair and Renovation Grant program. It would distribute money to public schools for emergency repairs or replacements involving lead and asbestos abatement or remediation; heating, ventilation, air conditioning; electrical, plumbing, roof and window, and other items that present a health or safety issue. However, it would rely on federal funding.

The Democrats reported Pennsylvania has some of the oldest school buildings in the nation. Most were constructed between 1950 and 1959. More than 200 buildings built before 1950, they said.

Asbestos abatement photo by Oregon DOT via Wikimedia Commons, used under a Creative Commons license