Philly launches Fund Our Facilities campaign

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Together with a coalition of union and civic leaders, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers is proposing an immediate investment of $170 million to make critical repairs to the city’s public school buildings. This cash infusion would triage dangerous health and safety conditions in schools, and doesn’t even count the billions of dollars needed to bring every building to the standards found in nearby, wealthier schools.

“It’s not enough to simply call attention to the inhumane school building conditions faced by too many of our children and educators,” said PFT President Jerry Jordan in launching the Fund Our Facilities campaign together with AFT President Randi Weingarten. “We also must have a comprehensive plan to immediately address the environmental hazards plaguing our schools.”

The plan is this: For $170 million, the most urgent environmental hazards can be effectively remediated in Philly’s more than 200 school buildings. The money would repair damage caused by deferred maintenance—the district would hire more cleaning and maintenance staff, increase rodent and pest control, remediate asthma triggers, accelerate lead paint stabilization, repair water leaks, modernize electrical and lighting equipment, upgrade bathrooms and replace windows.

“These conditions are immoral,” Weingarten told the crowd gathered at Francis Scott Key School on March 29. “If something is a priority, it will get funded. We need to make sure not poisoning our children is a priority. How do you allow a child to go to school in a building with mold, rodents and lead paint? We are the richest country in the world, and this is unacceptable. Our kids can’t wait.”

Weingarten and Jordan were joined by a host of elected officials, including state Sen. Vincent Hughes, state Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler, City Council President Darrell Clarke and council members Helen Gym, Cherelle Parker and Derek Green, as well as Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO President Pat Eiding.

The Fund Our Facilities campaign builds on years of Philadelphia member activism to reverse a foolhardy program of austerity imposed at the state level. In 2017, the school district outlined $5 billion in urgently needed repairs. For the first time in more than a decade, the district had assessed the state of its aging buildings, and the results were staggering: more than 12,000 outstanding repairs.

Bearing in mind that the district’s infrastructure problems have grown since then, the PFT arrived at the immediate $170 million figure after analyzing the most prevalent and critical health and safety issues. Although that figure is specific to Philadelphia, its coalition believes in equitable access to education nationwide. That’s why the PFT is part of the AFT’s national Fund Our Future campaign to restore deferred investments in public schools.

In conjunction with its new campaign, the PFT has developed a smartphone application that teachers, staff, parents and students can use to report unsafe or unhealthy conditions in schools. Members say they hope their efforts will serve as a model for other jurisdictions looking for sensible ways to ensure the safety and health of our children.

[Annette Licitra]