Sweltering schools bring up age-old infrastructure problem in Pennsylvania

The state put a moratorium on its reimbursement program for school construction in 2015.

Students from McCall School in South Philadelphia walk home on Sept. 6, 2018. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Students from McCall School in South Philadelphia walk home on Sept. 6, 2018. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A recent heat wave in Southeastern Pennsylvania has education advocates calling for more state funding for school infrastructure upgrades. Temperatures in the mid- and upper-90s forced the School District of Philadelphia’s to dismiss classes early five times in under two weeks. Only about a quarter of the city’s public schools have air conditioning. And some suburban schools also have only fans.

Crumbling schools need repair, and the recent hot weather shows how vital it is to improve facilities, said Gina Curry, a school board director in nearby Upper Darby.

“We have buildings that are in tremendous need of repair, and that takes away from instruction and the quality of it because they can’t focus because it’s too hot or too cold,” she said at a Friday press conference organized by local politicians.

State Rep. Leanne Kruger-Braneky, D-Delaware, said the state should put more of a priority on its PlanCon program, an initiative used to help districts with some of the costs of building new schools.

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“The Republicans have control of the House and Senate, and so they decide what bills get run,” she said.

A recent bi-partisan proposal says school repairs and renovations should also be eligible for PlanCon reimbursement funds. The program, though, stopped accepting any applications from school districts in 2015.

Even when it existed, annual PlanCon funding was a drop in the bucket compared with the massive school infrastructure needs across the state.

Between 2010 and 2015, the state doled out an average of $301 million annually through the program before turning off the spigot altogether. A 2017 review found that the School District of Philadelphia alone needs $4.5 billion in repairs to its buildings.

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