We need to invest in schools and our children

As submitted for the June 2023 edition of ‘East Falls Forward

On Monday, May 15th, 2023, I walked across the magnificent, shining, wooden stage at the Kimmel Center to receive my Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. This occasion capped my career of education— the first half or so spent at Philadelphia public schools.

As I’ve toured our local schools in the first few months in my new role as state Representative, it seems that little inside our schools has changed in the 30 years since I stood on the rubbery auditorium steps of Greenberg with my trumpet at my 8th grade graduation.

 The asbestos floor tiles, the rusty metal desks in the classroom that sound like Chewbacca roaring every time they were moved and the dreary cafeteria that seemed like no place you want to spend more time than absolutely necessary to eat your meal.

 Aside from being inadequate, we know our public schools can also be toxic. In April, CW Henry became the second Northwest Philadelphia public school to close in as many months due to unsafe asbestos conditions. 

While I lead efforts with state Representatives Kinsey, Fiedler, and Steele to address assessment, the notification, and remediation of unsafe asbestos conditions in our public schools, I am also working closely with state Senator Hughes to dramatically increase our investment in our public schools. 

In June we will work with our legislative colleagues and Governor Shapiro to pass a budget that will begin to address the disparities in our public schools that are so bad that our courts determined that our school funding process is unconstitutional, as it deprives students of an adequate education that is enshrined in our state’s constitution.

Although Governor Shapiro’s increase for school operations funding is almost 8% higher than last year, his budget does not increase any funding to “level up” the disparities between schools in districts that are poorly funded from those in well-funded districts.

While there is a lot to celebrate in Shapiro’s budget (e.g., universal free breakfast in schools, funding for mental health counselors, tax rebates for teachers) we will push in the legislature to get as much support for our schools in this budget as possible. 

These increases should include more funds to repair toxic schools (currently proposed at $100 million for matching grants) and funds that would allow schools to perform renovations and upgrades to modernize our schools.

According to the School District of Philadelphia’s own measurement, nearly seven of the nine public schools in 194th district received failing grades for “facilities condition assessment.” (Sadly, my alma mater Greenberg School in Northeast Philadelphia received a woeful grade of 45/100, 3 points lower than my worst ever test grade at Greenberg — from Mr. Rubin in 7th grade geography).

In addition to pushing for more funding for public schools in this year’s budget, I am a prime sponsor on a bill with state Representatives Fiedler, Merski and Kosierowski that would fund fixes for critical projects, including repairs to roofs, plumbing, boilers, HVAC systems, and wiring.

We are hoping to get funds for these maintenance needs, and then enable schools to apply for funds for future construction projects under this same bill. 

We need to keep pushing if we intend to fix our schools, close the $2.7 billion annual shortfall for school facility capital investments, and make these institutions a cathedral of learning for all students.  

Every child should have access to the high-quality public education that I was privileged receive as this child, and do so in a safe environment, where they feel supported and valued. As your elected officials, we should be held to account to make this happen. 

Thanks for reading and see you here next month!