Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan welcomed as a “worthy experiment” a $20 million private scholarship plan that would provide at least 5,000 of the city’s 681,000 students with $1,000 vouchers annually for four years to attend the private or religious school of their choice. The project, which would take effect in 1999, is being developed by Wall Street businessman Theodore J. Forstmann, who already supports similar scholarship programs in New York and Washington, DC.
“We need revolution now,” Riordan told the Los Angeles Times in March. “We cannot ask a parent to wait five to ten more years for the federal government to test their kids and find out they’ve failed. It is evil to ask a parent to send a child to a school that is a disaster.”
Forstmann’s aim is simply to give poor parents the same options that people with money have. He says it’s “not fair” that so many children are not being properly served by their schools because of the monopolistic characteristics of the public school system.
“If you are not a rich person, you are at the complete mercy of the education monopoly,” Forstmann told the Times. From housewives to Harvard economists, he said, everyone agrees that “monopolies produce bad products at high prices.”
Arguing that “anything that promotes competition is a good idea,” Forstmann is recruiting local donors for the scholarship program. To qualify for the scholarships, a family of four must have an income of $35,802 or less, but would still have to contribute to the cost of a private school, since the voucher payment cannot cover more than 60 percent of the tuition.
Even so, demand for the vouchers is likely to be much larger than the supply, judging from responses to earlier programs. Over 7,500 students applied for 1,000 scholarships in Washington, DC, earlier this year, and 22,700 applications were received for 1,200 scholarships in New York last fall.
George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].