Just five weeks after the program was announced, Miami Inner City Angels (MICA) awarded $1,000 tuition vouchers to 100 Overtown children who were selected by lottery from the 600 scholarship applications. The vouchers are good at any private or parochial school in Miami-Dade County.
“I can’t tell you what this means to me,” said 24-year-old Bonnita Dukes, a working mother of three. “My son had 38 kids in his class. I’m so glad someone donated this money.”
For Lawanda Dixon, 33, the vouchers mean the difference between returning her children to public school, where they had been failing, or enrolling in St. Francis school, where they had begun to make great strides.
“I thought it was a joke when they said someone was donating money to black kids in Overtown,” Dixon said. “I’m overwhelmed with joy. I wish it had happened years ago when I was growing up.”
Education is the only way to break this cycle of poverty, says Michael Carricarte Jr., the South Miami businessman who founded MICA. “The choices of these families shouldn’t be taken away because of economic reasons. This gives them the chance to make a choice. They don’t want their children falling into the same cycle.”
The squeals of joy from parents whose children were chosen by lottery to receive the vouchers could not, however, fill the disappointed silence of those less fortunate.
“It was such a happy day for me in Overtown,” said Carricarte. “But it was a sad day because you have 500 other families saying, ‘What do we do now?'”
San Antonio Students Apply for Vouchers
Over ten percent of the eligible students in San Antonio’s Edgewood School District have applied for the full-tuition scholarships offered by CEO Horizon.
In what a front-page Wall Street Journal story called “potentially the biggest voucher experiment in the country,” nearly 1,500 applications were received from the 14,000-student district by mid-August. The Horizon project, cosponsored by CEO America, is the nation’s first to enable almost every family in an entire school district to exercise choice through the offer of full-tuition vouchers.
“We are very excited about the tremendous response from parents desiring additional educational options for their children,” said CEO America President Fritz Steiger. The program is completely funded by private sources, he noted, and will continue for at least 10 years with a minimum commitment of $5 million a year.
Of the 1,497 students who applied for the CEO Horizon scholarships, 912 have been qualified to receive one. Over 650 have completed the enrollment process at the school of their parents’ choice and started school at 53 different private schools. To meet the demand for additional private school seats, two new schools have opened in the Edgewood district, and at least three have been created outside the district.
“Our efforts are aimed at helping the entire Edgewood community and being a catalyst to improve educational quality for every child in every school, public or private,” said Steiger. Noting that 10 percent is a significant number of parents seeking alternatives to public education, Steiger expressed his hope that “the Edgewood School District [would] to respond to the competitive pressure.”
The CEO Horizon program will be evaluated regularly for its effect on student performance and on the quality and availability of public and private school options. Researchers are also interested in what effect the program has on public school policies and outcomes.
One policy already has changed. To address her falling enrollment, Superintendent Dolores Munoz has indicated she will accept out-of-district students who want to attend Edgewood schools.
Allowing students to cross district lines “is an example of the type of systemic change we are hoping for,” said Robert Aguirre, a San Antonio businessman who serves as managing director of the San Antonio CEO Foundation.
DC Vouchers, Round 2
The House version of the District of Columbia Appropriations bill includes the parental choice amendment sponsored by Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas). The spending bill would provide scholarships of up to $3,200 to 2,000 students in the District. The amendment, which passed on August 6 on a 214-208 vote, is the same measure passed by the Senate and House but then vetoed after being sent to the President on April 30, 1998.