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Starting today, Pa. schools can apply for up to $10M for environmental repairs

Two students play basketball in the school gym.
Jakob Lazzaro
90.5 WESA
The Sto-Rox Junior-Senior High School gym.

Beginning Wednesday, Pennsylvania’s Department of Education will accept grant applications for up to $10 million in school environmental facility repairs.

State officials say the $75 million Environmental Repairs Grant Program will help ensure students have a safe and healthy place to learn. Schools have until June 30 to apply.

“These grants help school districts make necessary upgrades and repairs to their buildings and learning spaces to ensure that our students and school staff have safe air to breathe, water to drink, and classrooms to learn in,” Education Secretary Khalid Mumin said in a statement.

Schools can use the funding to address environmental concerns, such as lead, asbestos and mold. Projects that remove asbestos or and other environmental hazards will be prioritized, as will schools with elevated lead levels.

According to a 2021 survey of 65 school districts by the Pittsburgh-based nonprofit Women For a Healthy Environment, more than 90% of districts reported lead in their drinking water.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says even low levels of lead in children’s blood can cause brain damage, affecting their ability to pay attention and their academic achievement. Lawmakers in both the House and Senate introduced bills in recent months to create a $30 million Safe School Drinking Water Fund.

The legislation would also require schools to replace all outdated water fountains with filtered ones.

Schools can also access $100 million in state funding for facility improvements through the Department of Community and Economic Development. That grant program, which will accept applications through May 31, will provide funding for heating and air conditioning upgrades, window replacements and environmental remediation.

Governor Josh Shapiro proposed another $300 million for the environmental repair program in the next state budget, as well as $50 million annually for school safety and security improvements.

Meanwhile, the state’s reimbursement fund for school construction — known as PlanCon — remains unfunded.

Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.