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San Diego Union Tribune

November 20, 2001

Private-school scholarships offered
By Chris Moran

Two philanthropic foundations announced yesterday that they are offering $750,000 in private-school scholarships next school year for local pupils in kindergarten through eighth grade.

The Los Angeles Children's Scholarship Fund and the La Jolla-based Girard Foundation will grant 160 scholarships of up to $1,775 each to children from low-income households.

The winners will be drawn by lottery in early February from among letters and postcards sent by Jan. 18. The scholarships will be awarded only after the parents present proof of their income and their child's admission to or enrollment in a San Diego County private school.

The scholarships offer an alternative for parents dissatisfied with their children's schools, said Michael Warder, executive director of the Los Angeles Children's Scholarship Fund, which will administer the San Diego program.

Buzz Woolley, president of the Girard Foundation, said, "We're giving choice to people who have not had choice."

Ted Forstmann and John Walton, who has a residence in National City, started the Children's Scholarship Fund in 1999 with $100 million of their own money. It has awarded scholarships to 34,000 students in 38 cities, including 3,500 in Los Angeles, Warder said, and about 40 in San Diego, under a program similar to the one just announced.

Forstmann and Walton started the fund to offer parents a choice besides public schools. They said the competition will improve public schools.

The two philanthropies will split the costs of the scholarships. Girard, which does most of its work in the area of public schools, also wants to give low-income parents more school choices.

The Children's Scholarship Fund hasn't been able to document improved performance by most scholarship recipients except for African-Americans. A Harvard University study found that black recipients closed about a third of the test-score gap between themselves and whites when they transferred from public to private schools through the scholarships. The study also says parents of private-school scholarship students are nearly three times as likely to say they are "very satisfied" with the quality of their school, compared with public-school parents who either didn't win or didn't accept a scholarship.

Warder said the free-market principle behind the scholarships will also exert "positive pressure" on public schools to improve.

"The public school that child (who transfers to private school) has come from has to think about the quality of education that child is getting and the experience the child is having, because people will vote with their feet," Warder said.

Wayne Johnson, president of the California Teachers Association, said he has no problem with the scholarship programs, but he objects to what he sees as Walton's and Forstmann's agenda.

"They have a philosophy to privatize public schools and turn them into schools for profit, and this could conceivably be a factor in that push," Johnson said.

The scholarships do not mean a free education. Families must pay at least $500 tuition. The scholarships, depending on family income, will pay 25 percent, 50 percent or 75 percent of tuition, with a cap of $1,775. Tuition at local private schools ranges from $1,000 to more than $13,000.

Warder acknowledged that, with the $500 minimum payment, "It is probably not going to work for the most destitute." But, he said, families that can't come up with that amount might find additional financial aid at a private school.

The scholarships are for four years. Although high schoolers are not eligible to apply, the scholarships will follow middle schoolers into their high school grades for as long as they submit proof of their eligibility.

Woolley and Warder invited other philanthropists to take part. Warder said that subject to approval by its board, the Children's Scholarship Fund will offer 50 cents for each dollar contributed to fund more scholarships.

Chris Moran: (619) 498-6637; chris.moran@uniontrib.com

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