Press Release

A tale of three Pennsylvania schools, Part 2

Editors Note: Editor’s note: This commentary from Nathan Cunneen, first appeared in reimaginED. 
Note: reimaginED guest bloggers Walter Blanks Jr. and Nathan Cunneen, who serve as press secretary and communications associate, respectively, for the American Federation for Children, recently had the chance to see the inner workings of several charter, private and virtual schools in Pennsylvania. Their visits came courtesy of an AFC partnership with the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, the Commonwealth Foundation, and Harrisburg Families United. In this post, Cunneen reports on what he saw at one of those schools during the “Stronger Together Tour.”
Bishop McCort Catholic High School is located roughly 300 yards from one of the worst school districts in Pennsylvania and one of the poorest areas in the state.
The district down the road, which remained closed for the entirety of last year, receives approximately $16,000 per pupil from the state. Meanwhile, Bishop McCourt educates nearly 400 students at a $7,000-a-year rate, inside a 100-year-old building.
The school has a 100% graduation rate over the last five years.
Most of the students are recipients of the Pennsylvania Educational Improvement Tax Credit, which helps them afford to attend McCort; otherwise, they couldn’t afford to do so.
This example just goes to show – money isn’t everything.
Bishop McCort has the highest private school transfer rate in the state of Pennsylvania. More than 70 students seeking a high-quality, in-person education experience transferred in last year. McCort has room for more students, but Pennsylvania’s hesitancy to expand school choice options further makes it increasingly difficult for families to exercise that option.
Walter and I had the opportunity to address the student body at McCort, along with the school’s CEO Tom Smith; Harrisburg Families United CEO Naijimah Roberson; parent Andrea Jaber; and two students, Ean Jaber and Kiersten Way. We took a few moments to share our personal education choice stories and explain why school choice is so important.
It was clear that no one at McCort takes education choice for granted. Everyone, from students and families to teachers and administrators, know they are receiving and providing a top-notch education, and they want that for other kids. In fact, during the assembly, principal Smith asked everyone if they knew someone who wanted to attend Bishop McCort but couldn’t afford it.
Nearly every student raised his or her hand.
It was moving to hear the students talk about their school. Ean, during his address, explained the joy he felt to transfer from another school. He told his audience: “I wish I’d started here earlier.”
Perhaps more Pennsylvania students will have that opportunity thanks to the advocacy of engaged students like Ean and their families.


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