Many of the nation’s public schools are in poor physical condition. Since the Great Recession of 2008, states stopped or cut the funding necessary repairs and upgrades. President Biden’s infrastructure plan included $100 billion to upgrade the physical conditions of America’s schools. In the last hours of haggling before the bill was passed, this provision was cut, then eliminated.

In a major blow that left educators, school leaders and advocates stunned, Democrats pared back – and then eliminated – $100 billion that Joe Biden earmarked for school modernization in his spending bill.

The story details the woeful conditions of Philadelphia’s schools. Helen Gym, an education activist who was elected to the city council, has been outspoken about the need to invest in rebuilding obsolete schools.

“Our children deal with lead, asbestos and mold,” Gym says of the School District of Philadelphia, where schools are on average 70 years old. “We had to start school weeks later than schools in the suburbs because we don’t have air conditioning and classrooms can reach 90 degrees or higher on our hottest days, which are becoming more and more frequent.”

Gym, a potential 2023 mayoral contender and longtime education activist, had been arrested weeks prior to the rally for banging on the doors of the Senate gallery inside the state Capitol in Harrisburg to protest the way the state funds the city’s public school system – a longstanding issue that goes on trial in the commonwealth court next week.

“We have windows that don’t open fully,” she says. “Even now we struggle with the basics of functioning cafeterias, bathrooms that don’t flood and roofs that don’t cave in.”

Five years ago, when Philadelphia performed a cursory assessment of its buildings, it estimated that basic repairs to bring schools up to code would cost roughly $4.5 billion, to say nothing of long-standing larger renovation needs or modernizing its K-12 system top-to-bottom. In 2019, the school district took out a $500 million bond for routine capital projects to begin facilities improvements.

States need federal aid to upgrade their schools. We put our money into those things we care most about. Providing healthy and attractive buildings where children learn is not at the top of the list.