State Reps. Fiedler, Schweyer, Merski, Hill-Evans and advocates urge PA Legislature to fund school facilities in 2023-24 state budget

HARRISBURG, June 14 – State Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler, D-Phila., hosted a news conference in the state Capitol Rotunda Wednesday and called on legislators to fund school facilities in Pennsylvania.

“We have a unique opportunity to finally invest in fixing toxic schools across Pennsylvania,” said Fiedler. “It’s long past time we prioritize the health of our students, teachers and school staff. We have some of the oldest schools in the nation right here in Pennsylvania, and many of them have unsafe conditions that are simply unacceptable. I am committed to investing state dollars to remediate and repair our schools.”

Rep. Peter Schweyer, D-Lehigh, chair of the House Education Committee, reminded everyone that school buildings are learning environments.

“The quality of a school building has a direct impact on a child's ability to learn,” he said. “This year's House budget begins to address our toxic schools, but there's much more work to be done. We can't delay any longer -- our children deserve better.”

State Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York County, commended the bipartisan support behind funding school facilities.

“We are building bipartisan support for funding school facilities within this year’s budget,” she said. “The House sent a version of the budget to the Senate last week. Our proposal used Governor Josh Shapiro’s budget proposal as a starting point but went a step further by increasing funding for schools and school facilities repairs substantially. We are proposing $350 million for school facilities modernization in our call for funding within the state’s budget. It’s time for us to put our dollars where they can do the most good – in our school facilities.”

“Each year that we fail to sufficiently fund our schools means the bleakest kind of compounding interest: ever more deferred maintenance with facilities crumbling around children” said Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg, a senior attorney at The Public Interest Law Center who litigated the 2018 William Penn School District v. Pennsylvania Department of Education fair funding court case.

Urevickick-Ackelsberg spoke about the need for adequate school facilities: “We always knew this was morally wrong, and now we know it violates the Pennsylvania Constitution, too. As the court made plain: Pennsylvania children are being deprived their right to safe, appropriate places of learning. The moment to fix this system is now.”

Arthur Steinberg, president of AFT-Pennsylvania, called on Harrisburg to utilize the portions of the commonwealth’s surplus and Rainy Day fund to fund schools.

“With a budget surplus of over $8 billion and an additional $5 billion in the Rainy Day fund, right now is the time to get this done,” he said. “Upgrading these facilities will create jobs and economic activity across the commonwealth and provide every student in Pennsylvania with the school facilities they deserve.”

“POWER Interfaith is clear that the budget is a moral document and that it represents what we value” said Lilah Saber, Philadelphia organizing director of POWER Interfaith. “For too long Pennsylvania has made the decision that our children are not valuable enough to invest the dollars to repair toxic schools. We call on our state legislature and our governor to pass and sign into law a budget that includes $350 million in funding to repair toxic school buildings.”

Fiedler, Schweyer, and Hill-Evans were joined by House colleague Robert Merski, D-Erie. Also speaking at the news conference were Hillary Linardopoulos, legislative director of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers; Eric Becoats, superintendent of William Penn School District; Michael Ford, secretary-treasurer of the PA Building and Construction Trades Council; and Michael Kelly, principal of design at KCBA Architects.

The entire news conference can be viewed here: School Facilities Rally - YouTube.