Merski, fellow lawmakers announce legislation to invest in school facilities
Rep. Robert Merski March 1, 2023 | 3:28 PM
HARRISBURG, March 1 – State Reps. Bob Merski, D-Erie; Elizabeth Fiedler, D-Phila.; Bridget Kosierowski, D-Lackawanna, and Tarik Khan, D-Phila., today partnered with state Sen. Tim Kearney, D-Delaware, to announce legislation addressing toxic school buildings in Pennsylvania.
Gathered outside the lieutenant governor’s office, Merski, Fiedler, Kosierowski and Khan said they plan to introduce legislation to fund the school construction program PlanCon to address the school facilities crisis in Pennsylvania. The lawmakers’ legislation would fund the maintenance program within the traditional PlanCon program for vital projects including repairs to roofs, HVAC systems, boilers, plumbing and electrical wiring.
Under the legislation, the lawmakers propose opening applications only to the new Maintenance Program created under Act 70 for a temporary 3-year period. After this period, the Department of Education would re-open the program for traditional PlanCon projects, with the Maintenance Program returning to its 20% share of available funding.
The lawmakers announced they are also introducing another piece of legislation to address toxic school buildings. This legislation would make changes to the commonwealth’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program to make it easier for public schools to submit applications for building improvements.
Their announcement comes on the heels of the Commonwealth Court’s ruling in the William Penn School District lawsuit, that Pennsylvania’s system of funding public education is unconstitutional. The group of lawmakers stressed that in addition to the need for basic education funding, the lawsuit highlighted school facilities issues.
“During my nearly 20 years as a teacher, I taught in a wide variety of classrooms, from bright, modern spaces to those with poor lighting, leaky ceilings and outdated ventilation,” said Merski. “I saw firsthand how building conditions can impact learning. Our kids deserve a safe, modern environment that’s conducive to learning, and our dedicated teachers and school staff deserve a safe workplace.”
“When a child is sitting in a classroom with peeling paint and asbestos, shivering because they’re too cold or have a nosebleed and a headache because they’re too hot, they can’t learn,” Fiedler said. “School buildings are a statewide educational and public health issue, and we need to start funding them with that importance. The recent Commonwealth Court ruling provides the state an excellent opportunity right now to ensure all children can go to school in a safe building and pursue a quality education.”
“Lead, asbestos, radon, mold and other hazardous elements are frequently found in our schools, which has significant short- and long-term effects on children and faculty.” said Kosierowski, who was a practicing nurse before she became a legislator. “These negative impacts range from physical health and safety to academic achievement. Toxic schools are a public health crisis.”
Also speaking as a medical professional and a lawmaker, Khan, D-Phila. said, "As a family nurse practitioner, I am deeply invested in the health and safety of children across the commonwealth. We need to make sure our kids can attend schools where they are safe, enriched and feel invested in. Schools must be cathedrals of learning with an environment that will elevate our students’ health and well-being, not lower it.”
Kearney is introducing similar legislation in the Pennsylvania Senate.
The lawmakers were joined by leaders from the Scranton and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.