“At the outset, Mr. Chairman, I want to stress that I am not ‘anti’ anything: not anti-public schools and not anti-charter schools. I am for every parent having choices to find a school that works for their children.”

With that, Andrew Brady, President of West Catholic High School, began his testimony in favor of Lifeline Scholarships before the Pennsylvania House Republican Policy Committee during their recent hearing held at the IUPAT (painters) union hall in Philadelphia. West Catholic educates 437 students of all races and religions (including those of no religious faith). They have room for 300 more. At West, everyone graduates, and nearly everyone goes to college. Sadly, public schools blocks away tell a very different story. Lifeline Scholarships would meet the tuition needs of many Philadelphians at less than half the cost of the public schools in the same community.

In its own way, West Catholic already offers lifelines. They would like to offer more.

READ MORE — GOP Policy Committee hears testimony from Philadelphians on the need for school choice

Lifeline is legislation meant to rescue the poorest children trapped in the worst schools. A scholarship fund would be set up to give working-class and poor families the chance to save their children from Pennsylvania’s lowest-performing schools and send them to another school. It’s straightforward, compassionate, and common sense.

Governor Josh Shapiro promoted Lifeline on national television: “I believe every child of God deserves a shot here in Pennsylvania… making sure every child has a quality education.”

Brady was joined by a retired Philadelphia and suburban public school teacher, a 2023 graduate of Little Flower High School, a South Philadelphia mom of twins entering high school, and a mom who is married to a Philadelphia Police Officer and has two children on the autism spectrum. As they told their stories, they had the seventeen House members’ full attention. This included Chairman Josh Kail of Beaver County, a father of eight.

Listening to the parents at the union hall and at the State Senate Education Committee hearing at St. Joseph’s University, I heard pleas for help. Parents want to get their kids out of failing schools now, and they want politicians to listen and act now. (Parents seeking charter and cyber schools sound identical.)

While each story is unique, there’s a common theme: Help my child and all children. Moms fighting for their children isn’t a news story. But what is inspiring are the moms, dads, and grandparents who take the time to go public to fight for all families, and for other children they will never meet.

Why? They recognize how important a solid education is, and sadly, they’ve learned how powerful the forces against Lifeline Scholarships are. These parents can’t understand why any politician wouldn’t let parents choose a school that works.

They know they must speak out and have nothing to lose. Having their child stuck in a failing or dangerous school is not an option. They don’t want their children caught up in power politics.

Every child deserves the chance to be safe at school and reach his potential.

“Let me make this clear at the start. I am a Democrat. I am active in my community, and everyone knows this.” This is how Keemah Brewington began her testimony before the House Republican Policy Committee. This brought a mixture of smiles and curious looks. Several Members leaned forward in their chairs to hear what was coming next.

Brewington spoke with both passion and eloquence, bringing legislators and the audience into her world so that maybe we could stand in her shoes.

She walked us through the Philadelphia School District high school fair. Every school had a booth, literature, and a staff member ready to answer questions. There are “criteria-based” schools, those based on academics like Masterman, and specialized schools like CAPA (the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts). And there were dozens of traditional “catchment” schools based on your zip code, such as Strawberry Mansion and South Philadelphia High School (“Southern”), where Brewington’s twins would be expected to go. (And where my father attended.)

Brewington then painted a vivid picture. “Some schools had lines, with parents pushing ahead to get all the materials and to make sure their kids got to meet the staff. And there were others with no one in line and the staffer sitting in a chair checking his Twitter feed.”

Her story runs contrary to the myth — the sometimes not-so-soft bigotry — that parents won’t know how to pick a school for their children if given Lifeline Scholarships. But parents of all races and neighborhoods already know what bureaucrats learn only after pouring through data points.

No one wants to go to Strawberry Mansion. And Keemah Brewington of South Philadelphia was going to move Heaven and Earth to make sure her twins didn’t go to Southern. She didn’t need an “analysis.”

Philadelphia’s criteria-based process brought tears of joy and frustration to the Brewingtons. Her daughter was accepted to CAPA, yet her son, who battles ADHD, was rejected and forced to go to Southern. (Note: All charter schools in Philadelphia are full, their enrollment is capped by the School Board, and they haven’t allowed a new charter in years. There’s a 30,000-student waiting list.)

Through persistence and prayer, days before this semester began, Brewington got enough scholarship aid to combine with what she could afford to get her son into the local Catholic high school, Neumann/Goretti. Like the three parents who testified in front of the Senate Education Committee earlier in the week — Daniel Prescott, Amanda Golden-McLeod, and Sylania Jenkins — she was happy to have found a way to get her child into a Catholic school even though she wasn’t Catholic. It was about discipline, safety, a focus on academics, and accountability. The students would be held accountable, and the school would be accountable to the parents.

They each did what they had to do — take extra shifts at Wawa, work three jobs, and pursue scholarships from anywhere they could find. Some shared that they don’t know if they can keep their kids in these schools as inflation eats away at their paychecks.

Each spoke out because their work isn’t done. Each told their own story, but their message was the same: every child deserves the chance to be safe at school and reach his potential. Please don’t talk to them about politics. Every child needs a Lifeline.

Guy Ciarrocchi is a Fellow of the Commonwealth Foundation. He writes for Broad + Liberty and RealClear Pennsylvania. @PaSuburbsGuy

One thought on “Guy Ciarrocchi: Parents make the common sense case for Lifeline Scholarships”

  1. Thank you for your article. “All charter schools in Philadelphia are full, their enrollment is capped by the School Board, and they haven’t allowed a new charter in years. There’s a 30,000-student waiting list.”?!?!? What a perfect example of politicians not responding to the citizens – 30K wait list?!? – and instead obeying big money teachers’ union. Show me the incentives (politicians obey big money) and I’ll show you the results (big money sticks it to the poor.) Gov. Josh Shapiro and every person that voted for him should be ashamed.
    The Democrat party, in conjunction with the Biden White House, currently are silencing states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and Georgia — along with millions of potential primary voters — because they don’t want the people to speak for themselves. The R.I.N.O.’s are the same.

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