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Giving Parents a Choice and Children a Chance

A helping hand makes all the difference to elementary school children who need a chance. Last spring I attended a luncheon at Central Catholic High School in Portland to honor graduating seniors with athletic scholarships to college. I was invited by a young man who began to be sponsored by the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland when he was in grade school.

“I have learned that nothing’s going to be handed to you and that you’ll succeed through hard work,” Kidus told me. “[Private school] was challenging, but it has gotten me ready for college and life.”

One of Central Catholic’s star basketball players, Kidus now attends Portland State University and plays for the Vikings. He was able to attend private schools because of scholarship assistance from caring Oregonians.

January 22-28 is the second annual National School Choice Week. A collaboration of more than 200 organizations across the country, National School Choice Week highlights the need for effective educational options for all children, especially those most in need of increased educational opportunity. Participating groups believe parents should be empowered to choose the best educational environments for their children and support a variety of school choice options, including increased access to high-performing public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, virtual schools, private schools, and homeschooling.

Scholarship programs like the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland help put private and parochial schools within the reach of elementary children like Kidus. Because of the Children’s Scholarship Fund and its local partner programs, more than 123,000 low-income children nationwide have attended the private and parochial schools of their parents’ choice. In fact, the Children’s Scholarship Fund is the only national K-8 scholarship organization in the country, providing help and hope to kids who are eager to learn and to achieve.

Believing that every child, regardless of family income, should have access to a quality education, Ted Forstmann and John Walton cofounded the Children’s Scholarship Fund in New York City in 1998. Forstmann and Walton challenged local donors across the country to join them in funding the initial 40,000 K-12 scholarships worth $200 million. The Children’s Scholarship Fund remains the country’s largest charity helping parents to send their children to the schools of their choice.

Here in Oregon, local donors made pledges sufficient for Cascade Policy Institute to launch a $2 million CSF partner program, the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland, which has given more than 600 students a “hand up.” “CSF-Portland scholars” have chosen a diverse range of Oregon private and parochial schools, but they are united in their gratitude to each and every benefactor who made their individual dreams come true.

To be eligible for scholarship assistance, families must have incomes low enough that they would qualify for the Federal Free and Reduced Price Lunch Program; but every parent must pay part of their children’s tuition themselves. Making the scholarship a “hand up,” rather than a “handout,” ensures that parents stay engaged with their children’s education, a key component of student success. In fact, CSF-Portland parents pay, on average, more than half the cost of their tuition (they pay $1,900 per child this year). By choosing to pay for private education, they forgo the $10,000-per-child which Oregon currently spends on public education in favor of a better chance for their children.

CSF-Portland scholarships average only $1,700 per child, but this often makes the difference between children attending a public school where they are not thriving or a private school where they are. Scholarships are funded by local donors here in Oregon, whose gifts are matched by the national Children’s Scholarship Fund in New York, so a $100 gift to CSF-Portland can sponsor a low-income child’s tuition for a month.

Ted Forstmann said, “Every child, regardless of their parents’ income, should have access to a quality education – an education that will not only prepare them for successful private lives, but help them to build cohesive communities and a strong democracy. We believe if you give parents a choice, you will give their children a chance.”

He also truly believed, “If you save one life, you save the world.” While Americans engage in necessary debates on education reform, we cannot wait to help the children sitting in classrooms today. The Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland empowers lower-income Oregon children to get a “hand up” early in life through a quality elementary education, a simple step that puts kids with limited choices on a path to success that gets them “ready for life.”

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