Scholarship Fund Gives Teachers a Voice

Published April 1, 2000

When the Children’s Scholarship Fund offered half-cost tuition vouchers for children in low-income families to go to private schools, it provided megaphone amplification to the voices of over one million parents and children around the country who were dissatisfied with their public schools.

Now, the Fund is amplifying the voices of educators through a new Teachers’ Advisory Board to the scholarship fund. Consisting of current and former teachers, principals, and school administrators with experience in primary and secondary education in government, parochial, and private schools, TAB will provide counsel to CSF in rethinking the way the U.S. funds and delivers education.

The formation of the advisory board was announced by CSF Chairman and CEO Ted Forstmann in a speech at Columbia Teachers College and Law School in December. Forstmann was introduced by civil rights leader Martin Luther King III.

“I see the work of the Children’s Scholarship Fund as a real continuation of the work my father began,” said King, acknowledging Forstmann as one of a few brave men and women “stepping forward to change the status quo in education.”

The 19-member Teachers’ Advisory Board will provide CSF with an opportunity to hear the voices of educators and translate their voices into action. Members include National Teacher of the Year award recipients Tracey Bailey, Thomas A. Fleming, and Guy R. Doud; famed teachers Jaime A. Escalante and Marva Collins; and Dr. Stephen Levy, president of Phi Delta Kappa at Teachers College. Three TAB members have been the subject of interviews in School Reform News: Collins, Anthony J. Trujillo, and Thomas E. Williams.

In his speech to students at Columbia, Forstmann called for an end to the current monopolistic system of K-12 education, saying it was “crazy” to think that education didn’t operate on the same principles that govern every other sector of our society. Contrary to the claims of the system’s defenders, this monopolistic system does not benefit teachers, he said.

“I’ll be the first to tell you that I think that great potential teachers of the caliber represented here today are grossly under-appreciated and underpaid by the current monopoly,” Forstmann told the students. That won’t be the case in the competitive marketplace of the future, he said, when “many of the brightest minds coming out of college will be drawn to the wide open possibilities in the field–drawn to start new schools, create new curricula, and make new fortunes.”

“But they’ll be drawn to something else, too: a new spirit, a new esteem for teachers, in the eyes of the public and their peers,” he added.

When the Children’s Scholarship Fund received 1.25 million applications for 40,000 scholarships, Forstmann said his first reaction was to raise more money for another 40,000. But then he realized that the private school seats just weren’t available. Because of the present public school monopoly, new education suppliers are not rushing in to meet the demand from families who are dissatisfied with their public schools. We can change that system, said Forstmann, and “make it more compatible with the rest of America–which has flourished in competition and freedom of choice.”

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News.