The leader of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) is calling for Gov. Tom Wolf to address the asbestos issue in public schools now by declaring a state of emergency.
Wolf put $1 billion in his proposed state budget for lead and asbestos remediation in the state’s schools. But with two more Philadelphia elementary schools shuttering due to asbestos, PFT president Jerry Jordan said it’s not enough.
“But we must do more, and we must do it now,” Jordan said in a statement on the PFT website. “The facilities emergency in Philadelphia’s public schools is nothing short of a humanitarian crisis.”
The PFT created the “Fund our Facilities Coalition” to ask for $170 million to clean up Philadelphia’s schools. The group cites other issues besides asbestos, including rodent/pest control, water leaks and more custodial staff to keep schools clean. Several members of the Legislature, the Philadelphia City Council as well as U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle are a part of the coalition that has asked on several occasions for the governor to do something about the schools.
“We asked. We begged,” said State Sen. Larry Farnese, D-Philadelphia, at a PFT news conference. “And now we demand there be a state of emergency called in Pennsylvania because of the condition of our schools.”
Farnese is a member of the “Fund our Facilities Coalition.”
Some lawmakers have suggested Wolf could take money from the state’s rainy-day fund to pay for the remediation. But any money taken from the fund requires approval from two-thirds of the Legislature, Lyndsay Kensinger, a spokesman for Wolf, told The Philadelphia Inquirer.
"A 10th Philly school has closed this year because of asbestos," said state Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, the minority chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, on Twitter. "We need emergency funding to fix our schools now! Broken and toxic schools must go. This is a public health crisis."
The PFT has called on the governor to declare a state of emergency for several months but has praised Wolf’s proposed funding for remediation using the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program.
“The governor’s proposal to open RCAP applications to lead and asbestos remediation to the tune of $1 billion has enormous potential,” Jordan said in a statement after Wolf’s budget address. “I am extremely encouraged that the governor is taking our voices seriously and has developed a plan to bring relief.”
Ten Philadelphia-area schools have closed because of asbestos issues in the past few months. The latest closings were announced Wednesday night when Philadelphia school officials announced the temporary closures of Clara Barton and James Sullivan elementary schools.