Private Scholarships Spur Change

Published October 1, 1998

Impatient with the slow pace of education reform, some school choice advocates have spurred change in the public school system by means of private school choice programs.

When Virginia Gilder offered scholarships of up to $2,000 to students at the failing Giffen Elementary School in Albany, New York, some 20 percent of the student body picked up and walked out, according to Thomas A. Carroll, executive director of the scholarship fund involved, called A Better Choice.

“What happened next was an example of the power of competitive pressure,” said Carroll, who related the Giffen story at ALEC’s 25th Anniversary Annual Meeting in Chicago, Illinois, in August. The principal and 12 of 40 teachers were transferred out and the Johns Hopkins literacy program was brought in. Giving poor children the right to exit a failing school, said Carroll, stimulated improvements in public education.

“It’s morally unconscionable to force a child to go to a failing school,” said Carroll, asking how opponents of vouchers could justify trapping children in schools to which they would never send their own children.