Open the umbrella to protect our students and school staff

How much does it need to rain before an umbrella is opened? In Philadelphia, it’s been raining cats and dogs for quite some time and needs protection from the storm. That protection can come from some of the $2.3 billion that was placed in the state’s “rainy day” fund in June, and I am urging my colleagues in the Pennsylvania legislature to authorize its use. If we are wise, also would spend the stimulus and infrastructure funds currently being appropriated in Washington. Our local and state economies need this investment.?? 

On August 10th, 2021, the U.S. Senate gave bipartisan approval to a $1 trillion infrastructure bill to rebuild our nation's deteriorating infrastructure and help improve the lives of many Americans. Of that $1 trillion, Pennsylvania could potentially see $11.3 billion going to projects such as highway work, bridges, and public transportation. My focus has been renovation of school infrastructure, especially in Philadelphia.? 

We all are well aware of the health risk posed by COVID-19 in our schools. The Wolf administration’s universal masking requirement in schools and its vaccine campaign are designed to keep our kids, teachers, and staff safe, but that is not the only grave health crisis facing our schools.  

According to a report conducted by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers in 2021, "Dozens of Philadelphia public schools continue to have serious environmental hazards, including damaged asbestos, peeling lead paint, and mold."  These environmental hazards could lead to damaging effects that no one would notice until many years after continued exposure. Considering the ecological hazard of asbestosis, prolonged exposure could result in lung tissue scarring and shortness of breath. The continued exposure to lead-based paint attacks the brain and central nervous system, leading to either coma, convulsions, or even death. Children who survive severe lead poisoning may be left with behavioral disorders or intellectual disabilities. The continued exposure to mold with children can also lead to respiratory illnesses. The union explained that to remediate the most severe environmental hazards it would take around $200 million. With all the ecological risks persisting in multiple schools, the cost to fix them is pricey; however, the current price tag does not outweigh the health of our children. By renovating the infrastructure of the schools, we can also create jobs and boost the economy. ?? 

The environmental hazards affecting schools in Philadelphia hit close to home for me. Richmond School is in the legislative district I serve and it has recently undergone asbestos remediation and has a major new construction project going on now. I am also an alum of Masterman which saw most faculty working outside the school building, refusing to return over the fear of asbestos. They were joined by parents and students to show concern about the unsafe conditions in the school building.?Richmond and Masterman’s aging, decaying buildings, are the rule, not the exception in Philadelphia – but we have a chance to change that.  

Environmental hazards are not the only reason why schools should be renovated. According to a report conducted by the PFT, the average age of Philadelphia schools is 70 years. Several schools in my district are even older than that. In the 21st century we have the perfect opportunity to make school buildings greener - more energy efficient, and safer for our kids. A few ways of turning school buildings green include using green building materials when renovating, finding problems in HVAC and water systems, and of course, going solar. Not only will these methods help the environment, but they will save money at the same time by reducing operating costs.?? 

As the idiom goes, "it takes money to make money.” I believe that the small slice of the $2.3 billion set aside for our rainy days, and spending the $200 million for which the PFT has advocated, can be the umbrella we open. To paint a picture, imagine the money provided to help the infrastructure of schools is a rock thrown into a pond. The ripples in the water represent the boost to the economy. The creation of multiple jobs in construction projects and the purchasing of products needed to renovate the infrastructure of schools all generate economic activity.  

Improving our school infrastructure today is an investment in our economic, technological, environmental, and educational prosperity now and into the next generation. Let’s make that investment so we can make it always sunny in Philadelphia.