In an unprecedented move that has catapulted the private voucher movement into national prominence, entrepreneur-philanthropist Ted Forstmann has unveiled the Children’s Scholarship Fund, a private foundation that will award $200 million in scholarships to at least 50,000 low-income children in grades K-12. Together with investor and retailing heir John Walton, Forstmann will underwrite $100 million and seek matching funds from local partners in communities nationwide.
“John and I and all our partners across the country are thrilled to be helping out children who have so far been deprived of equal opportunity in education,” said Forstmann, who is Chairman and CEO of the Fund.
Forstmann’s June 9 announcement marked the completion of Phase I of the foundation’s plans, with matching partners and financing already secured in five cities: Chicago, the District of Columbia, Jersey City, Los Angeles, and New York. Phase II was launched that day, as 300 packages announcing the program arrived on the desks of mayors across the country.
Phase III of the expansion takes place this month, with the announcement of recipient cities and local partners identified over the summer during a nationwide search. Families will apply for foundation scholarships through these partner city programs. In the spring of 1999–in time to begin the 1999-2000 school year enrolled in schools of choice–at least 50,000 children will be awarded scholarships by lottery.
Forstmann and Walton were moved to take their efforts nationwide after their Washington Scholarship Fund (WSF) met with overwhelming demand from low-income parents. Over a 16-week application period for 1,000 scholarships, the WSF received 7,573 applications, representing 17 percent of the eligible population in Washington, DC.
“We have found that there is a huge demand for quality education, and we hope that our support will help encourage a more competitive educational environment to benefit all of America’s children,” said Forstmann.
American Federation of Teachers union president Sandra Feldman said she would much prefer that the money had been contributed directly to the public schools. Forstmann, however, noted that businesses have already made significant financial commitments to many public schools, with little discernable effect.
The Children’s Scholarship Fund effort has attracted widespread support. At the June 9 announcement, Forstmann and Walton were joined by New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler, Los Angeles partner Michael Ovitz, the Rev. Floyd Flake, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President Lonnie Taylor, and DC partner Bob Thompson, president of the Jefferson Group. Letters of support were sent by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.
George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].