We need lead-free school funding in our next budget

Neither Michigan Senate or House FY22 school budgets included a $55 million appropriation in grants for schools to install and maintain filtered water fountains with bottle fillers and, in some cases, on-tap filters.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s FY21 supplemental appropriation recommended funding this critical program, which would protect nearly 1.5 million children and tens of thousands of adults from lead exposure from their school’s drinking water.

This “Filter First” approach is the most health-protective, cost-effective and immediate way to remove lead from school drinking water. The funding is paired with implementing bills, SB 184 and 185, sponsored by Sen. Vanderwall (R- Ludington) and Senate Minority Leader Ananich (D- Flint). The funding and the bills are supported by a group of Michigan clean water, health, parent, and education organizations and leaders.

“Given the lack of funding for the Filter First initiative in either legislative chambers’ school budgets, it appears this critical program is falling to the bottom of the list, but protecting our children from toxic lead exposure, especially in schools, should never be a low priority,” said Charlotte Jameson, program director for the Michigan Environmental Council. “It's still early in the budget process, so we urge appropriations leadership and the Legislature to include this funding in future iterations of Michigan's budget..” 

“Here in Michigan, surrounded by 90% of the nation’s surface freshwater, all children should have drinking water that is free of lead and other toxic contaminants,” said Nick Occhipinti, government affairs director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. “Clean, lead-free drinking water for kids at school is not a partisan issue. We call on lawmakers to fund these critical grants for water filters in schools to protect our kids’ health.”

“Exposure to lead in drinking water is entirely preventable,” said Rebecca Meuninck, Ph.D., deputy director for the Ecology Center. “Funding for the Filter First initiative will protect Michigan kids from lead in the water at their schools.” 

“The Filter First initiative is the most cost-effective way to protect children and staff from lead exposure in school drinking water,” said Christy McGillivray, political and legislative director for Sierra Club Michigan. “This common-sense approach will guarantee that children have access to safe drinking water.” 

Other advocates working to advance Filter First policy include: the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan; the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center; Elin Betanzo, founder of Safe Water Engineering; Abigail A. Dumes, PhD, Ann Arbor school district parent and assistant professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of Michigan; Patrick Kelly, public health professional, and Rebecca Lazarus, board member of Ann Arbor Public Schools.

Learn more

Click here for an overview of the Filter First campaign’s legislation

Click here for the Filter First campaign’s fact sheet on cost 

Click here for the CDC's description of lead exposure's health impacts

By Beau Brockett Jr.