Housing and Education Go Hand in Hand in Our Vision for a Healthy Pennsylvania 

The success of our students in school is inextricably linked to their ability to maintain housing.
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Written by State Reps. Elizabeth Fiedler, D-Phila., Rick Krajewski, D-Phila., and Ismail Smith-Wade-El, D-Lancaster

House Democrats, with support from some Republican colleagues, made major headway in Harrisburg with the passing of our education funding bill (HB2370) that would clear the path for equitable access to an adequate and fully funded education for every child. After decades of state disinvestment, we are closer than ever to securing desperately needed dollars for basic education funding and, once again, defeating destructive, billionaire-backed school voucher programs.  

But what happens outside of the walls of the classroom is just as important, if not more, as what happens inside of them.  

Right now, more than 40,000 public school children are experiencing homelessness in Pennsylvania. This means that they are currently living in shelters, hotels, or other places not considered permanent residences, including doubling up with other families.  

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, almost 60% of children experiencing homelessness are chronically absent from school. This has devastating educational consequences: excessive absences translate into lower test scores and graduation rates. The four-year graduation rate for students experiencing homelessness is roughly 20% lower than the general student population. Beyond education, for many of these students, dropping out of high school means an increased risk of incarceration and difficulty finding and maintaining employment.  

To give our children the future they truly deserve, investing in school systems alone is not enough; we must simultaneously make a commitment to guaranteeing safe and affordable housing for all. On the table in this year’s budget is the opportunity to do both.

READ: These Three Bucks County Republicans Voted Against the Pennsylvania House Bill to Fix the State’s Unconstitutional Education Funding

Pennsylvanians are acutely aware that affordable housing has reached crisis levels in the state. Our offices receive calls from constituents seeking help every day. Across the board, no other issue creates as great a feeling of helplessness, or of hopelessness, than the prospect of being without a home.  

As federal dollars for rental and tenant assistance dry up, access to stable housing is nowhere near pre-pandemic levels, and the problem is only getting worse. The people who bear the brunt of the crisis are women — especially working-class Black and Brown mothers and those fleeing domestic violence. Lawmakers in Harrisburg have the tools and mandate to make this a historic moment for the housing movement where we cement gains made during the pandemic.  

On the local level, Pennsylvania cities are already blazing ahead and securing major victories for tenants. Philadelphia’s Eviction Diversion Program, a COVID-era policy which prevented thousands of evictions by creating a landlord-tenant mediation process, was just made permanent. In Allegheny County, implementation of Sen. Nikil Saval’s Whole Home Repairs program was so popular that 96% of eligible applicants have been deferred because of a lack of sufficient funds, and county leaders are rallying for more.  

State proposals to keep the momentum going are on the table this budget season. Gov. Josh Shapiro proposed a statewide Right to Counsel program in his budget address, which would help level the playing field for low-income renters by creating access to free legal counsel in cases of eviction. Since then, the three of us have authored legislation to get it done. Proposed increases to the statewide homelessness assistance program would help families avoid eviction by providing wrap-around housing services. And renewing Whole-Home Repairs funding would provide even more homeowners the resources they need to make basic repairs to their homes, like fixing a leaky roof or repairing foundation, so they can stay in them. 

READ: Supreme Court Will Decide Whether Homeless People Should Be Treated Humanely, or Instead as a Criminal Menace

Meanwhile, each of us is also fighting a much larger legislative battle, alongside housing and legal aid advocates, for a slate of commonsense tenant protection bills, including sealing eviction records, reforming Philadelphia’s notorious for-profit eviction system, and bringing transparency and accountability to landlord LLCs that mistreat their tenants.  

The success of our students in school is inextricably linked to their ability to maintain housing. If children do not have a consistent place to rest their heads at night, then little to no learning is possible in the classroom.  The work in front of us is immense, but if we take action, this year’s budget can be a crucial step toward building a Commonwealth where housing is a human right, neighborhood schools have the resources to help our youngest residents succeed, and all Pennsylvanians can live in safety and dignity.   

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