I’m writing right now from the road, specifically from the poorest city in America: Reading, Pennsylvania. Reading is one of the cities mentioned in today’s CF news release pointing out that children attending Pennsylvania’s worst academically performing public schools are more than 5-times as likely to fall victim to acts of violent crime. And reading that news release, which took me aback even though I knew it was coming, reminded me of an experience I had in another area with troubled schools.
Specifically, what I’m remembering is a conversation I had with a young man who attends Propel Braddock Hills, a charter school in the Pittsburgh area. That young man had escaped from the Wilkinsburg School District, one of whose schools plays host to a situation so shocking that it’s featured by name in our news release. I asked the young man what he thought about his new school, and his answer was pretty simple: He liked it a lot, he said, because there weren’t any fights.
If you’re anything like me, the biggest problems you had in school were things like bad hair days (or years, in my case), headaches, flag football games that went the wrong way, and nerdy clothes. For this young man, it was just being in an environment where there was sufficiently little violence that he could even try to learn.
What was even more extraordinary about this young man was a project he told me all about. It’s called “Propelled to Read,” and the short version is that a group of students at Propel Braddock Hills got the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to donate some old newspaper machines that they now use as a depository for books. People in their community can borrow the books, which the students collected via a collossal donation drive, for free.
Why am I telling this story today? Because right now, our state legislators are in the midst of making a decision: Are they going to pass the best legislation they can to enable more students to share books, or are they going to continue to consign an unacceptable number of students to schools where they are likely to get booked, or get hurt, or worse?
That’s what this complex debate about acronyms and tax credits and vouchers boils down to. It’s not an esoteric policy spat. It is a moral imperative. And if you’d met my friend with the books, you’d understand.