June 07, 2000 2 min read

Private Scholarships: The Children’s Scholarship Fund aims to fill every empty seat in New York City’s more than 900 independent private and parochial schools next year, with the addition of $50 million to its project to aid 7,500 poor students in grades K-8.

Theodore J. Forstmann, the fund’s chief executive officer and the Wall Street financier who co-founded the organization with philanthropist John Walton, unveiled the expansion of the 2-year-old, privately supported national program last month.

“In almost every area of life, we trust competition to increase quality,” Mr. Forstmann said in a statement. “In America, consumers are free to choose among a multitude of suppliers, and suppliers must compete for their business. The same should be true of education.”

The expansion was set in motion by the demand for the four-year scholarships, said Darla M. Romfo, the president of the New York City-based fund. Last year, some 1.25 million families applied for the voucher-style grants nationwide, but the fund was able to provide for only 40,000 students, at a cost of $160 million, she said. The fund awarded 2,000 scholarships to students in New York City last year, out of more than 170,000 applicants.

The 7,500 recipients of the new round of New York City scholarships will be randomly chosen out of last year’s applicant pool, Ms. Romfo said. Currently, the fund has 421 private and parochial school partners in the city.

As in the national program, families must apply for the scholarships—which average $1,300 per year—and are required to make a minimum contribution of $500 to the cost of tuition, Ms. Romfo said. Families select the schools their children will attend.

The expansion of the program was limited to New York City because it would be easiest to implement and monitor, Ms. Romfo said.

The Children’s Scholarship Fund has “had a phenomenal impact on the school choice movement,” said Fritz S. Steiger, the president of Children First CEO America, an organization based in Bentonville, Ark., that aids voucher programs and is pushing for publicly financed vouchers. The fund has generated substantial media attention and made it easier for people of all political backgrounds to support school choice, he said. Still, Mr. Steiger added, the fund’s effort is “a drop in the bucket.”

“It is great to help children and bring more attention to the issue ... but the question is whether or not it can bring to New York City systematic change,” he said.

—Julie Blair

A version of this article appeared in the June 07, 2000 edition of Education Week