Voucher Advocate Takes Charge at Children First America

Published October 1, 2002

In August, Tampa businessman and leading school choice advocate John Kirtley was named president and CEO of Children First America (CFA), a school choice organization formed 10 years ago to extend nationwide the privately funded scholarship model created by business leaders J. Patrick Rooney in Indianapolis and Peter Flanigan in New York City.

The appointment of Kirtley was the first act of newly appointed CFA board chairman Rick Sharp, Virginia business leader and former Circuit City chairman.

“I am confident that John and his staff will achieve great things in the fight for educational freedom,” said Sharp, pointing to Kirtley’s proven record of achievement in Florida.

Kirtley is a cofounder of the Tampa-based venture capital firm FCP Investors. He helped found and develop several private scholarship efforts in Florida, and he has worked closely with CFA and other school choice advocates to boost school choice not only in Florida but around the nation. He was most recently involved in the effort to create Florida’s corporate tax credit program to encourage private funding of K-12 scholarships.

CFA’s aim is to win educational freedom for America’s parents so they can exercise their fundamental right to choose the school they think is best for their child, be it public, private, or parochial. The organization, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, pursues a three-part strategy to achieve this:

  • encourage and support the formation of school choice scholarship programs funded by private citizens;
  • support school choice parents across the nation as they organize and work for change;>
  • educate and inform policy leaders at the local, state, and federal levels on the issue to make them more effective.

As a result of the organization’s efforts, today there are more than 100 privately funded choice programs formed and operating in 39 states and the District of Columbia. More than a half-billion dollars has been invested in these programs over a 10-year period to serve more than 100,000 children. Many of these programs have been designed in such a way as to support high-quality research into many different aspects of educational choice.

“I have no doubt that the achievements of our organization to this point will serve as a foundation for a greater growth of parental freedom in education,” said retiring CFA President Fritz Steiger, who had informed the CFA board earlier this year of his intention to return to the private sector.