On April 16, 2019, PFT President Jerry Jordan delivered testimony on school building conditions at an infrastructure hearing convened by U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon. Here’s the full testimony:
I want to thank Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon for convening this hearing this afternoon, and for giving the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers the opportunity to weigh in on this national priority.
Investment in infrastructure is exciting to those of us who live in older, post-industrial cities like Philadelphia. I know there are others around the table who can speak much more effectively about how our region would benefit from improvements to our streets, bridges, transportation and other public spaces.
But today I want to emphasize how critical it is for us to invest immediate resources into fixing our public school buildings.
It is not an exaggeration to say that school building conditions in Philadelphia constitute a health, safety, and moral crisis.
- Every day, thousands of our schoolchildren report to schools that expose them to mold, lead paint, asbestos, substandard air quality and rodent droppings
- Many sit in classrooms that are too cold in the winter and dangerously hot in the warm weather months.
Years of education funding cuts have forced school districts like Philadelphia to defer maintenance, resulting in small issues becoming major repairs.
When we talk about infrastructure investments to prepare our city for the future, we must also talk about the conditions under which we are educating our children.
Competing on a global scale requires an educated workforce prepared for a 21st century economy.
We simply cannot expect our students to learn, achieve and thrive in school if they are literally being poisoned in their classrooms.
The school buildings crisis is both an economic and moral issue, and one that needs to be addressed now.
Thankfully, this issue is getting more attention. The PFT provided photographs and information that contributed to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s award-winning “Toxic City: Sick Schools” series.
Since then, our state and local elected leaders have given increased attention to the conditions in our school buildings.
Last month, the PFT parlayed this attention to convene the Fund Our Facilities Coalition.
- This group of City Council members, State Senators and Representatives, and labor leaders is calling for an immediate $170 million investment to make critically needed repairs to Philadelphia’s public schools.
But $170 million isn’t nearly enough to completely transform all our school buildings into the kinds of learning environments enjoyed by students in wealthier school districts.
It will take billions for a complete infrastructure overhaul for Philly’s schools. It requires Congress to include school buildings as a special component of national infrastructure improvements.
Like any other investment in infrastructure projects, fixing Philadelphia’s public schools is a much-needed “job creator” for Philadelphia, a city with a 26% deep poverty rate.
In the long term, better school buildings will lead to better health for students and school staff. This means reduced absenteeism, less teacher turnover, and better student outcomes.
All of that adds up to a brighter future for our city and our region.
Thanks again for the opportunity to speak on this topic.