The following editorial appeared in The Scranton Times-Tribune. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Tribune-Democrat.
Even Lt. Gov. John Fetterman wore a business suit for Gov. Tom Wolf’s annual budget address to the General Assembly.
But as Wolf spoke about the need to focus on education and improving educational buildings statewide, workers wearing protective hazardous materials suits began removing furniture from lead- and asbestos-tainted Northeast Intermediate School in Scranton.
Northeast, the 114-year-old former Technical High School, is closed indefinitely and perhaps permanently due to testing confirming the presence of lead in drinking water and asbestos in building materials. Three other old city schools also have closed, at least temporarily, for the same reasons.
In Philadelphia, seven schools already have been closed due to lead and asbestos contamination. And the state has hundreds of older school buildings that are certain to contain the toxic materials.
The governor, as he has in the past, proposed a significant increase of about 2%, $170 million, in the state’s contribution to public education and laid out charter school funding reform that could save another $280 million for local school districts.
But whatever becomes of those proposals in the upcoming budget process, legislators should embrace yet another initiative to increase school safety. Wolf proposed expanding a state economic development grant program by $1 billion, to be funded through borrowing by bonds, to deal with lead and asbestos contamination.
In addition to that initiative, the governor plans to dedicate another $100 million to the effort with money from a federal health program and PennVEST, a state grant and loan program to help improve water and sewer infrastructure.
That money could be used for water line replacements.
The need is real. Wolf’s proposal is nonpartisan and does not require a tax increase. Legislators should seize this opportunity to safeguard the health of millions of Pennsylvania children.