Fiedler, PFT, Phila. councilmembers urge funding school facilities in 2023-24 budget

PHILADELPHIA, June 23 – State Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler, D-Phila., hosted a news conference at South Philadelphia High School Friday morning, calling on the Commonwealth to increase funding for school facilities improvements.

Pennsylvania "has billions of dollars that should be invested in public infrastructure, job creation and education,” Fiedler said. The Commonwealth is currently sitting on $11 billion in reserve cash.

“Governor Shapiro’s budget has proposed $100 million in school facilities funding, which is a great start,” Fiedler said.

While Shapiro’s budget proposal did not indicate a method of distribution for these funds, Fiedler has co-sponsored H.B.1408, which provides a vehicle for distributing school facilities funds. Her bill updates PlanCon, a method of funds distribution that has not been utilized since 2016.

“I am hopeful H.B. 1408 will get a House vote next week, and I’m committed to pursuing all avenues through which we may remediate and repair our schools across the Commonwealth,” she emphasized, who has spearheaded the issue in the House.

Ana Tapia, Sunrise of Philadelphia’s South Philadelphia High School site director, spoke directly to her experience running the school’s after-school program. “Too often we hear on the news that budgets have increased for everything except for schools, after-school programming, and other resources for our youth. It’s time to change that agenda and demand better for our youth, who are after all, our future leaders.”

Labor leaders were also clear that facilities funding should be a priority for the legislature. Arthur G. Steinberg, president of AFT Pennsylvania, reminded the group that schools and their conditions directly correlate to our quality of lives and future: “School facilities improvements lead to improvements in student test scores, student attendance and student effort. If we want a world-class education system in Pennsylvania, we need to invest in our school facilities now.”

“The fight for fully funded school facilities is inextricably linked to the broader fight for a fully funded system of public education, which is emblematic of our moral obligation to fight for a better tomorrow for all of our children,” said Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

Several Philadelphia City councilmembers emphasized that they are committed to partnering with the state legislature to invest in school infrastructure and Philadelphia’s children.

“We are going to take every step we can to invest in facilities,” said Councilmember Isaiah Thomas, who is chair of the city council’s Education Committee. Councilmember Kendra Brooks, vice chair of the council’s Education Committee, highlighted the parallels in her and Fiedler’s fight for school funding.

“We both have seen the severe damage this funding drought has caused – in our own children’s schools and in schools across the state. We both have fought to restore funding for school buildings, and we will not stop until all children in Pennsylvania can attend a safe and modern public school,” Brooks said.

Also in attendance was Mark Squilla, councilmember for Philadelphia’s 1st District who emphasized the many pathways school funding can take: “It is important for us to look at all avenues to make sure we have the resources necessary to ensure safety and security for every school building.”

State Sen. Nikil Saval, D-Phila., whose district represents South Philadelphia High, could not attend, but issued a statement of support.

Philadelphia schools have some of the hardest-working students and staff. They are brilliant, tenacious and resilient. We refuse to accept the unconstitutional disinvestment in our children and teachers. We follow their lead and will continue to fight for the safe and healthy facilities they deserve,” he said.

Fiedler emphasized that it’s not just Philadelphia schools that need investments. “Schools across the Commonwealth, in rural, suburban, and urban settings, are in need of repairs,” she said.

Philadelphia School District Superintendent Tony B Watlington Sr., Ed.D. reified this sentiment, “While Philadelphia has its share of facilities’ challenges, we must admit that we’re not alone, and appreciate the work of Representative Fiedler, Senator Hughes and the Philadelphia Delegation to fight for statewide resources to help all school districts.”

To view the livestream of the news conference, please click here.