PFT President Jerry Jordan Testifies at Council Meeting on School District Recovery Plan

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Jerry Jordan, President 

Testimony for City Council Committee on Children and Youth

American Rescue Plan

March 30, 2021


Good evening, I’m Jerry Jordan, President of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. Thank you Councilmember Gym for hosting this important town hall to hear from the Philadelphia education community regarding our collective priorities and vision for public education. 

 

The School District of Philadelphia is poised to receive more than $1 Billion dollars in funding from the American Rescue Plan, a sorely needed investment that is part of a $1.9 Trillion dollar rescue plan to help our nation grapple with the devastation wrought by this unprecedented pandemic.

 

We have important decisions ahead of us as a society: are we going to truly invest in our children, in the most vulnerable among us, in our communities, in our futures? While one billion dollars is a huge opportunity, we cannot lose sight of the fact that well beyond its allocation, we will need to continue to address the systemic racism that has yielded deadly consequences. Our Black and brown students have, for decades, borne the brunt of education cuts and of foolish attempts to privatize public education and deny our young people the educational resources to which they are constitutionally entitled. 

 

This $1B investment is not a panacea. And we cannot use it to allow the District, City, Commonwealth, or the Federal government to shirk their collective responsibility to educate all of our young people. But make no mistake: this funding is a once in a generation opportunity to address some of the pressing issues that have, in some cases, quite literally poisoned school communities.

 

The Federation is leading a survey regarding the spending under the American Rescue Plan. Like you do, Councilmember Gym, the PFT believes that community and stakeholder input will be absolutely critical in identifying where this funding will have the greatest impact. Our survey identifies a variety of options towards which the education funding under the ARP can be allocated and also asks for open feedback. The survey, as well as a breakdown of the funding under the Rescue Plan, can be found on our website, pft.org

While our survey is ongoing, I can safely say that amidst a devastating facilities crisis and a devastating gun violence crisis, two of the top priorities emerging are facilities remediation and mental health services. 

 

First, let me speak to the facilities crisis. For far too long, students and staff have been endangered by simply walking into their school buildings. It’s unconscionable, and it’s exactly why the PFT started the Fund Our Facilities Coalition, more than 70 organizations strong now, including many members of Council. In January 2021, our coalition reissued our collective demand for facilities funding. For $200 Million, the most pressing environmental concerns within more than 225 School District of Philadelphia buildings can be remediated. This will include a host of items, including but not limited to asbestos and lead abatement, mold remediation, window and bathroom upgrades, and very significant ventilation upgrades, which, in light of COVID19 are especially critical. 

 

The PFT believes that a significant portion of the funding will absolutely need to be allocated towards facilities remediation and modernization, and that this funding needs to have significant stakeholder oversight. Without oversight mechanisms, and without the Union and public’s oversight into the work that takes place, we cannot trust that another debacle like Ben Franklin/SLA will not occur. The systems in place behind the spending of this funding will be critical.

 

Also, amidst a year of devastating gun violence, one that just this past week took the life of an 11 year old Philadelphia student, our young people need and deserve a full, impactful approach to their mental health and wellbeing. 

 

As such, we need to engage in meaningful dialogue across sectors to address this crisis. We need to have real actionable solutions so that our students, the majority of whom are Black and brown and experiencing poverty, are not shortchanged time and again due to decades of systemic racism. 

 

In the coming weeks, we will be sharing a full report on our survey on spending priorities. I have attached a number of documents relevant to the Facilities Coalition ask as well as to the American Rescue Plan. I want to again thank you for holding this important meeting. I look forward to hearing from more of the speakers and learning about their priorities so that we can collectively advocate for what our students need and deserve.

 

Full testimony and attachments.