Inspired by last year’s overwhelming response from parents to the Children’s Scholarship Fund, retired St. Louis businessman Eugene Williams and his wife Evie have donated $2.6 million toward the creation of a new $3.6 million fund, the St. Louis School Choice Scholarship Fund. Former May Department Stores CEO David Farrell and his wife Betty donated the remaining $1 million.
The fund, unveiled in St. Louis, Missouri, on February 15, will support as many as 750 four-year scholarships of up to $1,500 a year. Recipients will apply the scholarships to tuition at a private or parochial school.
The Children’s Scholarship Fund received 10,000 applications from St. Louis families, roughly one-third of the eligible families in the city. However, only 600 scholarships were available. Each of the remaining 9,400 applicants automatically will be eligible for the new scholarships, and hundreds more are expected to apply by the March 17 deadline.
“You can’t just let [these children] drop out of the system,” said Eugene Williams, describing the scholarships as “a lifeline” for students who otherwise would be in poor public schools. St. Louis Mayor Clarence Harmon agreed, saying the private scholarships were the only escape available for many parents.
A week earlier in Denver, Colorado, the formation of another private voucher program was announced, this one called the Alliance for Choice in Education. ACE has committed $1 million a year for four years to give low-income children in Denver a better chance at a good education.
According to ACE chairman Alex Cranberg, between 500 and 700 children will have the opportunity to attend a private or religious school that their parents feel will benefit them most.
“All families, regardless of their financial situations, have a right and deserve an equal chance for high-quality education,” said Cranberg.
The ACE scholarships will provide 50 percent of tuition at an independent school up to $2,000 a year for students in grades K-8 and $3,000 for students in grades 9-12. To be eligible, families must qualify for the Federal Free/Reduced Lunch Program. There are about 140 private and parochial schools in the Denver metro area, and most are expected to participate in the program. Using the model established by the highly successful PAVE program in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, ACE will ask school principals to choose the grant recipients.