Governor floats plan to attack lead, asbestos in schools

Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Gov. Tom Wolf unveiled a new $1.1 billion package Wednesday intended to help eliminate lead and asbestos contamination in Pennsylvania’s schools, homes, day care facilities and public water systems.

The five initiatives include money in Wolf’s upcoming budget proposal and expanding existing grant programs, his administration said.

One key element would set aside up to $1 billion in grants from the state’s primary bond-funded redevelopment program for lead and asbestos cleanups in schools.

The program currently allows governors and lawmakers to direct hundreds of millions of dollars every year to favored projects, both private and public, but it traditionally has not been used to fund school construction or improvement projects.

Wolf, a Democrat, is scheduled Tuesday to send a budget proposal to the Republican-controlled Legislature for the 2020-21 fiscal year starting July 1.

The proposal comes as school districts, including Philadelphia and Scranton, are increasingly grappling with environmental hazards in aging and deteriorating school buildings, such as lead, mold and asbestos. In Scranton, state authorities are investigating what school officials knew about lead in the water in 2016.

Wolf has discussed the need in the past, saying that a sprawling infrastructure plan he floated last year could have been a source of help. But that plan never saw a vote.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania, beset by post-recession budget deficits, shut down a roughly $300 million-a-year school construction program five years ago. That left even the poorest school districts since then to pay for improvement projects themselves.

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