Fund Our Facilities Coalition Issues Statement on State Budget Proposals

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May 27, 2020

Members of the Fund Our Facilities Coalition urge significant additional education funding and a budget that holistically addresses the needs of communities across Pennsylvania. Members of the Fund Our Facilities Coalition issued the following statement regarding state budget proposal (HB2387) which yesterday passed the PA House and is currently in the PA Senate.

PHILADELPHIA–The proposal outlined in HB2387 is woefully inadequate in a host of areas and does little to ameliorate the massive challenges facing residents of the Commonwealth in the wake of COVID-19. As such, while the maintenance of education funding is a small step in the right direction, we are under no illusions that the funding proposed will be in any way sufficient to address the myriad issues at hand not only as a result of the global pandemic, but also before its emergence as a public health emergency.

The maintenance of last year’s education funding should be a floor. There is no circumstance under which we can successfully reopen and adequately safeguard our young people and educators without a significant influx of additional funding. The Coalition calls for additional state funding in the form of the following:

  • The implementation of the Governor’s $1B infrastructure plan, put forth in January as a key component of this year’s budget.
  • The utilization of $100 Million in CARES act funding, over which the Governor has discretion, to be disseminated via the funding formula, with the purpose of addressing school facilities issues as related to safety.

In addition to these critical state components, the Coalition reiterated its commitment to advocating for both city and federal funding to provide urgent resources to our schools.

On the proposal outlined in HB2387 and a broader look at a budget picture in general, coalition partners shared the following:

PFT President Jerry Jordan: “When assessing plans to safely reopen schools, we’re counting on elected officials at all levels of government to step up and fund our schools equitably. Without maintenance of funding and additional resources to address critical facilities needs, we simply will not be able to provide the services that are so critical to our students’ success. When we talk about the safety of our schools in the wake of this pandemic, we must also be unequivocal in our demand that our schools must also be safe from toxins such as lead and asbestos.”

AFTPA President Arthur Steinberg: “Given the scale of the coronavirus pandemic’s effect on our ability to provide a constitutionally mandated thorough and efficient education, we are disappointed to see that the majority in the state House did not step up to the occasion. The big challenges we face as educators and as a Commonwealth need to be met with big ideas and aggressive plans; this budget is neither. We need funding to ensure the safety of our students, educators, and staff through adequate PPE, testing, and contact tracing, not to mention ridding our schools of toxins like lead and asbestos. Flat funding is just not sufficient.”

Bishop Dwayne Royster, Interim Executive Director, POWER: “As a statewide, faith-based organization with over 100 active congregations of all faiths, we are deeply concerned with the implications of this budget. COVID-19 has highlighted the glaring disparities in educational resources for children of color and low-income communities, including school buildings with unsafe, toxic conditions that threaten the health of both students and staff. Now we need to safeguard against infection with the virus as well. This will take significant additional funding that is not in this budget! We cannot allow children and families in communities who are put at greater risk by their race and income to return to school in the middle of a pandemic to the same toxic conditions that were there when they left!”

State Senators

Dem Appropriations Chair State Senator Vincent Hughes (SD7): “We cannot let the COVID-19 pandemic stop us from addressing the longstanding public health crisis in our schools. If sending our children, teachers and school staff back back to healthy and safe buildings in the fall is our top priority, then we cannot overlook addressing our broken and toxic schools as a part of that process.”

State Senator Larry Farnese (SD1): “Philadelphia schools and the city have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Cleaning the schools, providing PPE to students and staff and removing environmental hazards should be top priorities. The state budget should help the school district address these significant challenges.”

State Senator Sharif Street (SD3): “The emergence of COVID-19 has only underlined the deep inequities that exist in our systems of education. Prior to the current health crisis, we faced the reality of unsafe learning environments rife with lead and asbestos, a result of years of indifference and deferred maintenance. As we move forward, we must amplify our efforts in addressing the inequities of our educational systems with a distinct focus on the state of education post COVID-19. This must include providing proper protective gear and deep cleaning of potentially infected school buildings, equal funding for virtual learning, ensuring the safety of learning environments and that all children receive an equal education. These are our goals as we work to allocate $750 Million in COVID-19 federal stimulus funds to school districts across the Commonwealth.”

State Representatives (in order of HD)

Representative Joseph Hohenstein (HD 177): “We have an opportunity to rebuild critical infrastructure, make our public schools safer and healthier, and create jobs that will stimulate economic recovery. The way to do that is supporting the Governor’s infrastructure initiative and ensuring that all federal CARES funding is distributed under the fair funding formula so that Philadelphia gets what it needs for our kids.”
 
State Representative Malcolm Kenyatta (HD 181): “In failing to provide proper funding for our students, we are asking them to return to school amid the inadequacies of the past, and as witnesses to even more of a lack of faith in their futures. Now is not the time to weaken the Commonwealth’s investment in our youngest citizens. Rather, it is a time to commit to re-investing in them.”

State Representative Elizabeth Fiedler (HD 184): “Our students, teachers and staff deserve safe and healthy school buildings, as we grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, and always. To make that happen, our schools need significant additional funding to deal with COVID-19 and the completion of the Governor’s $1 Billion school remediation proposal to get the toxic lead and asbestos out of classrooms across the state.”

Members of City Council

City Council Majority Leader Cherelle Parker (9th District): “When we are talking about reopening our schools, we cannot only be focused on ensuring teachers, staff, and students are as safe as can be from COVID-19. They also need to be as safe as can be from asbestos, lead, and other environmental hazards. And the only way we can achieve safe school facilities is via dedicated infrastructure spending based on need.”

City Councilmember Derek S. Green (At-Large): “We are advancing out of this quarantined period with an even clearer vision for the future of not just Philadelphia, but for Pennsylvania. The health and wellbeing of our children, and the quality of the educational landscape throughout the Commonwealth remain at the forefront of that vision. Accepting the bare minimum in maintenance of education funding will not remedy decades of unaddressed environmental hazards in our aging facilities.”

City Councilmember Helen Gym (At-Large): “Pennsylvania knows what happens when we don’t fund school systems during an emergency. We cannot afford the austerity measures this state pursued during the last great recession in which schools bore the brunt of the cost-cutting from the legislature. This is the time to increase investments in our schools, especially as a Pennsylvania Supreme Court reviews the state’s role in perpetuating and promoting inequity in school funding. I applaud the Fund Our Facilities coalition for keeping its eye on the mission of healthy, safe and supported children and schools.”

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