Pa. again pledges extra help to remove lead paint from Philly schools

Gov. Tom Wolf visits the newly painted library at Edward Heston School in Philadelphia to announce $4.3 million in state funding for lead paint stabilization at Philadelphia school buildings. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Gov. Tom Wolf visits the newly painted library at Edward Heston School in Philadelphia to announce $4.3 million in state funding for lead paint stabilization at Philadelphia school buildings. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

For the second time in as many summers, Pennsylvania will pitch in extra money to remove lead paint from Philadelphia schools.

The state will set aside $4.3 million for lead paint stabilization in Philly, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Wednesday.

A year ago, Pennsylvania pledged $7.6 million to remove lead paint, with the School District of Philadelphia adding $7.9 million to make other emergency repairs. So far, the district says, its remediated 32 elementary schools serving about 18,000 students.

“This is a good start, but we need to make sure we give the city of Philadelphia’s school district all the resources they need to make sure every single child and every single teacher in every single school in the school district can come to school free of any concerns over their health,” said Wolf during a press conference at Edward Heston School in West Philadelphia.

Local lawmakers and advocates continue to press for more money, citing an investigation from The Philadelphia Inquirer that showed serious environmental hazards in the city’s aging school buildings.

A coalition of legislators and union officials estimate it would cost $170 million to make all “urgent” repairs. State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) and State Rep. Elizabeth Fielder (D-Philadelphia) introduced legislation earlier this year that would have sent $85 million to Philadelphia for school repairs, but that proposal did not make it into the final state budget.

Hughes wanted the state to redirect money from its budget surplus into a special fund for school repairs.

Wolf and state lawmakers opted to put $317 million in the state’s rainy day fund. The governor said that money will protect schools against the kind of cuts that accompanied the last economic downturn.

“I would argue that in building up the rainy day fund and building up our savings, we’re actually doing the right thing,” Wolf said.

Wolf, instead, wants the state to levy a severance tax on natural gas extraction that, he says, will raise $4.5 billion for school building upgrades and other infrastructure needs.

The School District of Philadelphia has drawn attention to its building woes in recent years, estimating it would need nearly $5 billion to clear its maintenance backlog.

The district is currently appraising how many of its schools need lead paint remediation, said COO Danielle Floyd. Those assessments were prompted by new City Council legislation that requires the district to inspect paint in all buildings erected before 1978.

A typical lead remediation project costs between $300,000 and $650,000, said Floyd, depending on the size of the school.

“What we’re learning is there’s no shortage of damage to be addressed,” she added.

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