News from CEO America

Published March 1, 1999

Oprah Floods Scholarships Lines!

The 12,000 phone lines for the Children’s Scholarship Fund were jammed on February 2 after Wall Street investor Ted Forstmann appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s television show to publicize the program. Winfrey gave out the 1-800-805-KIDS number several times during the show, which also featured Bernice Gates, a Washington, DC, parent whose three children received scholarships from the program.

January Training Conference a Success

January’s fourth “almost annual” training conference in Phoenix was a great success, according to CEO America president Fritz S. Steiger. For two days, participants and panelists discussed the “nuts and bolts” of starting a private voucher program, from development of a mission statement, through program administration and fundraising, to handling public relations.

Discussion leaders at the conference included Dan McKinley of PAVE in Milwaukee, Teresa Treat of CEO San Antonio, and Trent Williamson of the Memphis Opportunity Scholarship Trust. Mixing scholarship with humor, Marianne Moody Jennings, professor of legal and ethical studies in business at Arizona State University, shared her thoughts on education and education reform during lunch on Friday.

At dinner on Thursday evening, Jack and Isabelle McVaugh were recognized for their efforts in founding the Arizona School Choice Trust, which already has helped a number of children and served as a model for the private scholarship tax credit legislation upheld in late January by the Arizona Supreme Court. Conference participants also were privileged to hear from Trent Franks, the former Arizona state lawmaker who authored the tax credit legislation.

“School choice attracts quality individuals–individuals who care about kids and the future of our country,” said CEO America’s Steiger. “The single greatest benefit” of school choice gatherings, he noted, “is the act of getting good people together” and giving them ample time to share their ideas.

Just Doing It

Calling it “by far the most encouraging report to date,” CEO America president Fritz S. Steiger in January announced the publication of Just Doing It #4, the latest comprehensive survey of the privately funded school choice movement in the United States. The report provides a look at the funders of the programs, the participants, the schools the students attend, and a contact list for each of the 31 existing programs and the 11 new programs launched in 1998.

“1998 has been an incredible year for school choice and CEO America,” said Steiger, noting the following high points of the past year:

  • The first district-wide school choice program was established in the Edgewood School District in San Antonio, Texas.
  • Ten new private voucher programs opened in the fall–in Birmingham, Alabama; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Dayton, Ohio; Hartford, Connecticut; Louisville, Kentucky; Memphis, Tennessee; Miami, Florida; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and two in San Francisco, California.
  • The Children’s Scholarship Fund was established by Ted Forstmann and John Walton, and will award $150 million in scholarships to at least 35,000 children for a four-year period.
  • The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the publicly funded Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to that decision.

Copies of Just Doing It #4 are available for $10 from CEO America.

New Fund in North Carolina

The Carolina Educational Opportunity Fund is the latest addition to the ever_expanding list of privately funded voucher programs across the nation. The program serves families with children who qualify for free of reduced price lunches and who live in the “triangle area” of Raleigh, Durham, and Winston-Salem–an area representing some of North Carolina’s poorest elementary students. The Fund will provide 200 school choice scholarships for the 1999_2000 school year, according to founder Vernon Robinson.

Applications for scholarships, which must be postmarked no later than March 31, 1999, are available at public housing authorities, participating schools, churches, and libraries. Scholarships will be awarded by lottery in April and selected students will receive a $1,000 scholarship for each of the next five years.

“This is a testament of hope–if you give people a will, they will find a way,” said Robinson.

Felicia Kenion agrees. “This will help me take stock in my children’s education,” said Kenion, 32, who lives in the McDougald Terrace public housing community with her four children, aged 11, 9, 3, and 2.

Robinson held several press conferences throughout the “triangle region” to announce the new CEO Fund, at one point speaking to a gathering at a barbershop in McDougald Terrace. Quickly spotting a business opportunity, the owner of the barbershop began offering “$5 haircuts and applications for $1,000 scholarships!”

For further information, call the Carolina Educational Opportunity Fund at 336/768_3567.

Promote Private Vouchers for Nevada

Saying school vouchers would “strike a decisive blow for meaningful change” in Nevada, D. Dowd Muska recommends that reformers raise private money and work with CEO America to bring choice to children in the Silver State. Writing in a January 1999 Issue Brief from the Nevada Policy Research Institute, Muska reports that the state is dominated by an education establishment enamored of weak, even counterproductive, school reforms.

“While it is highly unlikely that Nevada’s teacher union-controlled legislators will pass a taxpayer-funded voucher program, education activists who seek to rescue Nevada’s low-income students from failed public schools can take matters into their own hands” by creating privately funded vouchers, says Muska.

Voice for Choice

“As a career educator and voucher supporter, I can attest that the engines driving the movement to find alternatives to urban public schools are frustration and discouragement, not devotion to the free market. The urban poor struggling to scrape together $1,700 a year to send a child to Catholic school are not the folks reading Forbes magazine. They are the working poor who know that without a decent education their children are doomed to failure.

“Tuition vouchers would allow these parents to work only two jobs instead of three, would assure taxpayers that at least some of their dollars are providing urban children with a good education, and would reduce the functional illiteracy that makes it difficult for city residents to find jobs.”
Sister Suzanne Bellenoit, “Saving the Children”
Newark Star_Ledger, July 28, 1998