Former Congressman Urges Pastors to Support Choice

Published April 1, 1998

Saying that Texas can lead the way in school choice, the Rev. Floyd Flake, former New York Congressman, in January urged the African-American Pastors’ Coalition to rally behind the efforts of Putting Children First to bring full school choice to low-income students currently attending failing schools in Texas. Speaking during an observance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday at the Concord Missionary Baptist Church in Dallas, Flake said the education reform group was working to bring school choice to all Texas schoolchildren, “regardless of the color of their skin or where they live.”

“With your support and encouragement, Texas can lead the way for school choice,” he told the pastors. “The future of our children depends on it.”

All children deserve a chance at a quality education, declared Flake. “No child should be trapped in a failing school or an unsafe school,” he added. “No parent should be told they don’t have a choice when their child is in an unfit school.”

Putting Children First is working with Democratic legislators, including Rep. Ron Wilson in Houston, Rep. Glen Lewis in Fort Worth, Domingo Garcia in Dallas, and Henry Cuellar in Laredo, to open up choice opportunities for all schoolchildren in Texas. The group is pushing a legislative agenda that would bring school choice to the 575,000 students currently attending low-performing schools in Texas.

“Rev. Flake is a national leader of this movement and an inspiration to all of us,” said Jimmy Mansour, state chairman of Putting Children First. “I can’t think of a more fitting format for these remarks than at an observance of Martin Luther King Jr.–a man who dedicated his life to bringing equality and honor to all Americans.”

CEO America Welcomes the BASIC Fund

The first lottery for the new BASIC Fund–Bay Area Scholarships for Inner-City Children–was held on March 16 to award the first 150 of a total of 400 K-8 scholarships for use starting in the fall of 1998. Of the 400 scholarships to be awarded, 100 are reserved for San Francisco students currently attending private schools. The remaining 300 will be distributed in two lotteries to students who have never before attended a private school.

The BASIC Fund’s second lottery will be held on May 18. Applications for the scholarships were distributed in mid-January, following a meeting with principals from 35 private schools. The early date for the first lottery was made necessary by early application deadlines for some of the schools. Students are eligible only for one lottery.

To qualify for the BASIC Fund scholarships, students must be entering grades K-8 in the fall of 1998; their family must be eligible for the federal reduced-price lunch program; and they must meet all academic and other admission requirements of the private school to which they apply. The scholarships provide recipients with $1,000 a year for three years as long as the family pays its share of the tuition and remains financially eligible, and provided the student remains enrolled in the school.

Vouchers Give Giffen “Kick in the Pants”

Although many choice opponents still dispute its significance, Virginia Gilder’s offer of scholarships to allow students to escape from the worst public school in Albany, New York, clearly produced changes during the past year at the school, Giffen Elementary. Those changes are detailed in a February 11 Education Week article by Jeff Archer, subtitled “Faced With Competition, Public Schools Get Overhaul.”

The scholarship program had two goals, according to Tom Carroll, executive director of A Better Choice, which distributes the Gilder money. The first was to give students a choice, and the second was to give the school district “a kick in the pants.”

“What’s undeniable is that Giffen Elementary has undergone something of an overhaul this school year,” noted Archer.

Giffen’s enrollment has fallen, as one hundred students previously enrolled there took up the scholarship offer from A Better Choice. The school also has a new principal, two additional administrators, twelve new teachers, and $125,000 in extra funding from the school board. In addition, the new principal has implemented a series of initiatives designed to improve teaching methods, emphasize student discipline, and help students with homework.

“It’s been a very effective use of private money by not just helping children who get the scholarships, but by leveraging change,” CEO America president Fritz Steiger told Archer. “It’s no longer a principle. It’s happening.”

Frontlines Update

Celebration in Buffalo: After the BISON Fund raised enough money in its third year to award over 500 scholarships to grammar school children in Buffalo, New York, a Winterfest Party was held on March 14 to celebrate the third class of BISON Scholarship recipients.

Outreach in Dayton: The Dayton, Ohio PACE program has exceeded its goal of 3,000 applicants, and extended its application deadline to March 13 in order to reach specific neighborhoods that were slower to respond.

Booming in Dallas: Because of generous donations from two local foundations, the Children’s Education Fund in Dallas, Texas, has topped 500 students. The donations, a one-time gift of $50,000 and a three-year pledge of $75,000, will be used to provide tuition assistance to Dallas County’s low-income children.

Response to Critics in DC: The criticism that private voucher programs cream off the best and brightest children is “elitist crap,” according to Ted Forstmann, a major donor to the Washington Scholarship Fund. “These kids are sentenced to die . . . because without education there is no hope for them,” he told The Washington Post.

SWAT Team Assistance: Kristin Koessler of Buffalo’s BISON Fund is providing assistance for the fall startup of the BASIC Fund in San Francisco, while Teresa Treat of CEO San Antonio is helping support similar efforts for the KidsFirst Scholarship Fund in Minneapolis.