Nelson Garcia is a shining star. He’s a straight-A 11th grader at Liguori Academy with strong ambitions for his future. Namely, he wants to go to college. His mother however, is worried about paying for higher ed.
Fortunately for Nelson, he is on his way to achieving his goal. Based on his substantial academic achievements, he receives a full-tuition, three-year scholarship to Liguori. This, says his mom, “makes it a lot less stressful on me.” It also, both mother and son believe, is the best possible option for Nelson’s academic career. Liguori, they say, is the perfect fit for Nelson: the small classroom sizes; the one-on-one attention; the welcoming, nurturing, and personable environment; and the many extracurricular activities. Moreover, the private school stresses real-world experiences for students.
Liguori recently challenged students to learn the intricacies of the marketplace by creating and selling a product in an event called Falcon Tank, a version of Shark Tank, named after their school mascot. Nelson learned how to make shoes. He designed them using 3D software, and learned how to market and sell his product — all while getting paid for his work.
Through its Career Cohorts program, Liguori leverages an extensive network of partners to connect students with internships and job-shadowing opportunities and provide them with on-the-job training and industry-specific curriculum. Pittsburgh’s Penn Hills Charter School of Entrepreneurship and Nazareth Prep have similar programs that help kids develop the skills to succeed.
Not only would Lifeline Scholarships allow students to leave schools that don’t meet standards, but the program would empower parents by providing them with funding to enroll their children in private schools that fit their needs.
Mom Ana believes, “At public schools, I don’t think a lot of the kids have these opportunities.”
She’s right: many public schools struggle with just the basics.
What’s more, the threats our Philadelphia children face today seem much greater. Too often, children navigate dangerous neighborhoods to and from school. Liguori is no different. Nearby Kensington, where Ana went to school, is, she says, “a very tough neighborhood.”
And even if children commute safely, schools themselves aren’t necessarily safe. Pennsylvania Department of Education data show students attending the lowest-performing public schools in the Philadelphia area are twice as likely to experience violence than their counterparts.
Ana would do anything to keep her son out of harm’s way. If Nelson hadn’t earned his full ride to Liguori, she would have, in her words, “worked even triple” just to keep him there. Parents like Ana shouldn’t have to give up time with their children to give them the educational opportunities every child deserves.
This ideal may soon become a reality in Pennsylvania. Lawmakers introduced two bills — House Bill 1432 and Senate Bill 795 — to establish a Lifeline Scholarship Program for students in the state’s lowest-performing schools. [Editor’s note: These bills are currently at the center of state budget negotiations in Harrisburg.]
Not only would Lifeline Scholarships allow students to leave schools that don’t meet standards, but the program would empower parents by providing them with funding to enroll their children in private schools that fit their needs. Offering our low- to middle-income families a chance at schools like Liguori also helps build Pennsylvania’s next generation of healthcare professionals, builders, and entrepreneurs. “Brain drain” plagues many portions of the Commonwealth; finding ways to develop and retain talent is key. Lifeline Scholarships can help.
Ana sees a much bigger picture. Nelson’s is an emerging education success story that she wishes were universal. “It will be great for any kid and every kid in the city to really have this opportunity,” she says, adding, “Financial burdens should not fall on a kid, even though parents really do struggle and really do try their best. It should still not stop a child from shining in the future.”
Lifeline Scholarships offer families and Pennsylvania this hope.
Lenny McAllister is a Senior Fellow at the Commonwealth Foundation, Pennsylvania’s free-market think tank, and previously served as CEO of the PA Coalition of Public Charter Schools.
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