Florida State Sen. Janet Cruz is raising private funds to make sure water is safe in Hillsborough County public schools.
Cruz is launching a fundraising effort tentatively called “Get the Lead Out” after the Florida Legislature declined this year to pass a bill that would have funded water filters in state schools built before 1986 that might have lead in the water supply.
Cruz hopes to raise $250,000 to purchase and install water filters at the 136 Hillsborough public schools constructed before 1986 that contain lead pipes.
“There is no safe level of lead when it comes to children drinking from tainted water fountains. While I am prepared to sponsor legislation again next Session to install filters in public schools to get the lead out — I am not going to wait until then to take action,” Cruz said. “That is why I will spend this summer raising the money needed to install filters in Hillsborough County schools. Every child should have access to clean and safe drinking water at school.”
Of the 136 schools Cruz hopes to install filters, only 11 were found to have lead in the water above the 15 parts-per-billion threshold that is considered contaminated.
However, Cruz believes any level is too high.
Cruz’s bill (SB 66) in this year’s Legislative Session would have funded improvements in all Florida schools, but it stalled because the cost analysis was “indeterminate.” Later estimates for statewide improvements showed the project would cost nearly $12 million. But that estimate assumed filters would cost up to $400 each and would require changing 2-4 times a year.
Cruz and her staff researched the cost independently by speaking with companies that sell filters and found they can be purchased for as little as $20 per filter and only need to be changed once a year, greatly reducing the fiscal impact. Further, Cruz says school maintenance staff can install the filters, saving further funds by not having to hire installers.
Cruz’s fundraising efforts are in their infancy. Her office is working with lawyers and accountants to create a nonprofit organization to facilitate the funds and oversee water quality improvements at schools.
Cruz’s preliminary plans are to meet with potential donors, including large companies to raise funds. Cruz also anticipates creating a type of digital platform — like a GoFundMe page or something similar to allow individuals to contribute small donations. That platform would be ideal for families with students attending affected schools who want to ensure their children have access to safe drinking water while at school.
Improving public school infrastructure in her district was one of Cruz’s top talking points during her 2018 campaign for the Florida Senate.
While her campaign initially focused on gun control, Cruz pivoted to education infrastructure after a chance meeting with a South Tampa voter who was part of a multifamily fundraising effort to purchase air conditioners for some classrooms at Roosevelt Elementary School in the affluent Palma Ceia neighborhood after existing units failed and students sat in sweltering classrooms.
“Roosevelt Elementary is in one of the wealthiest areas of Tampa, but they still had this problem,” Cruz said at the time. “We had been hollering and stomping our feet (in the House) when we saw dollars going away from public schools.”
Now Cruz finds herself relying on funding solutions for water quality not through the legislative process, but through the charity of others.