Faith First Educational Assistance Corporation, a privately funded three-year-old institution, awarded nearly 100 school choice grants to low-income children in two states in September.
On September 29 the group gave a record-high 85 $500 scholarships to low-income children attending Christian schools in Pennsylvania–one more than founder Dr. Alberta Wilson actually had money to fund.
“I had a parent e-mail me who said, ‘There must be some mistake. Maybe you overlooked our name, because we haven’t gotten a letter from you to tell us we got an award,'” Wilson said.
“I e-mailed her back and said I was so sorry, we just were out of money. She began to tell me how after losing her husband six years ago, she’s been pinching off his life insurance policy to keep her child in a Christian school and pay the car insurance, that sort of thing, but she just couldn’t take him out of that school because he needs the environment. My heart went out to her, but I had no more money.”
Additional Donations Acquired
Wilson invited the woman to tell her story at the September 29 scholarship awards ceremony, with the possibility that someone there might donate the funds after hearing it.
And someone did.
“I thank you for giving me the opportunity to give my testimony. I hope I didn’t take up too much time,” Tonya Jones wrote in an October 2 e-mail to Wilson. “I just can’t tell you how grateful I am. I can’t stop crying!”
Virginia Effort Grows
A few weeks earlier, on September 16, the group gave scholarships to 14 students in Virginia to attend Christian elementary and high schools. Attending the event was state Del. Chris Saxman (R-Staunton), who championed a school choice bill in the General Assembly in 2004 and 2005.
“I thought the event was wonderfully uplifting, to see the children and their families recognize that their lives might possibly be transformed by attending the school of their choice,” Saxman said later. “That’s why I’ve been pushing school choice for all of Virginia.”
Though the bill passed the General Assembly both times, it has yet to pass the Senate. Saxman intends to reintroduce it when the Assembly reconvenes in January.
In late July, Faith First–which is based in Philadelphia and has been an approved scholarship organization under the state’s Educational Income Tax Credit program since 2003–opened its second office. Thanks to the generosity of a Suffolk lawyer who donated his old office furniture, bought Faith First a computer system, and rents them space in his office for $1 a month, the group has been operating in Virginia since July 28.
Grassroots Work Successful
Faith First is the only school choice group in the Commonwealth consistently making grassroots outreach efforts to educate parents. Though it awards scholarships only to children attending Christian schools, Faith First holds “parent engagement” meetings twice a month in Pennsylvania and once a month in Virginia, educating parents and school administrators of all varieties about the benefits of school choice.
“People here don’t even have a clue what school choice means,” Wilson said of Virginia. “But at those meetings, we help people whether they’re public, private, Christian, whatever. We just want people to be empowered to be involved in their children’s lives educationally, whatever choice they might make. It’s a parent’s right to make that choice.
“The people who came to the [September 16 ceremony] had no clue other states were allowing parents to make a choice. We’ve given them an object lesson by awarding these scholarships,” Wilson continued. “Here’s what can happen with a bill, only on a much larger scale. You can’t just give them the money without the empowerment and education. The two have to go hand in hand.”
Faith First plans to open a third office, in San Diego, in 2008.
Karla Dial ([email protected]) is managing editor of School Reform News.
For more information …
Faith First Educational Assistance Corporation, http://www.faithschoice.org