He Came From “The Bottom”: The Power of Education

June 21, 2023 | Sharon Sedlar

While I was at my daughter’s graduation last week, I had the distinct privilege to hear the story of a young man named Mr. Kareem Rosser. He spoke of the hardships in his life – the violence and drugs that surrounded his community and his family – and the resolve to change his trajectory and become the first person in his family to graduate high school. 

Kareem came from West Philadelphia (in an area known as “The Bottom”) and attended Valley Forge Military Academy on a scholarship. He told of how, when he arrived, he could not read and could barely even count. He realized that he needed help, and with the assistance of his teachers, he was able to become an exemplary student. He not only graduated high school as he had dreamed, but continued on to college, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics. 

It made me think of all the students in Philadelphia who aren’t so “lucky” to receive an education scholarship – 152 of out of 381 schools on the OSTC list are in Philadelphia. Half of the students in Philadelphia don’t even attend district schools, but rather opt for charter schools. But many of the charter schools are unavaliable due to long waitlists, arbitrary enrollment caps, bureaucratic refusal to renew charters, and a de facto moratorium on new charters. Where are those waiting children supposed to go? How will they survive educationally? Will they ever be able to thrive? 

Lifeline Scholarships (Senate Bill 795 by Senator Judy Ward released just last week, and House Bill 1432 by Representative Clinton Owlett) would provide $5,000-$10,000 to an eligible current public-school student in a bottom 15% low-performing school. The funds could be used for non-public education tuition, school-related expenses, and/or special education service fees. The program would be funded outside of district funding mechanisms and administered by the State Treasurer. 

This is why Lifeline Scholarships are so very critical to PA students. They are an immediate solution. Immediate relief for those students. Who knows how many more students like Kareem just need a step up – a chance – to change their lives. 

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