Lawmakers spend on pet projects instead of lead problems in schools; Sen. Cruz resorts to private fundraising

Child at school drinking fountain
Child at school drinking fountain. Credit:

This spring in the state capital, State Sen. Janet Cruz of Tampa pushed legislation to install filters in drinking fountains at older schools – a way to protect schoolchildren from the dangers of lead in school water supplies — but the effort fizzled as lawmakers favored other priorities.

Cruz, a Democrat, is now launching her own fundraising drive to raise at least $250,000 to install filters in Hillsborough public schools built before 1986 that have lead pipes, according to Florida Politics.

Cruz plans to solicit donations for the “Get the Lead Out” campaign from various community resources, including families who have students at affected schools, Florida Politics reported.

But while Cruz is raising dollars for Hillsborough schools, the rest of Florida’s public schools will likely be left behind in the lead-repair efforts, unless they use local, rather than state dollars, to address the issue. And public schools say they are stretched thin.

Testing for lead and fixing lead problems requires money, and lawmakers building Florida’s massive state budget this spring didn’t include specific state dollars for lead testing and repairs across all schools. At the same time, the House and Senate put millions of dollars into the 2019-20 budget for pet projects to send home to constituents.

The state Senate analyzed how much it would cost for filters for school drinking fountains, and the price tag was about $4.5-million in connection with 11,242 drinking fountains in various schools. Filters for kitchen fixtures in schools would cost another $4.2-million. More funds would be needed for replacement filters down the road.

The Florida Phoenix wrote this spring about the dangers of lead in school drinking water, with parents and students not always aware of the problem. Florida law doesn’t require schools to test drinking water for lead.

And for the most part, there’s no federal requirement for such testing, even though exposure to lead can slow a child’s development, damage hearing and speech and prompt learning disabilities, according to public health officials.

A “Get the Lead Out” study published earlier this year gave Florida an “F” when it comes to protecting kids from lead exposure at school. Twenty-one other states also got an F, according to the analysis of 32 states by the nonprofit groups Environment America Research and Policy Center and the U.S. PIRG Education Fund.

“Test results now show that lead is even contaminating drinking water in schools and pre-schools — flowing from thousands of fountains and faucets where our kids drink water every day,” according to the study. And, “In all likelihood, the confirmed cases of lead in schools’ water are just the tip of the iceberg. Most schools have at least some lead in their pipes, plumbing, or fixtures. And where there is lead, there is risk of contamination.”


  1. At a meeting with myself and Dr. Don Axelrad of FAMU in early April, LCS Superintendent Rocky Hanna and School Board Chair Rosanne Wood committed to budget $300,000 to replacement of fountains in every school in Leon County and $150,000 per year going forward to provide for replacement filters. I have requested, in writing, from Ms. Wood an update of progress since early April and am awaiting the LCS response.


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