This is a guest post by Darla M. Romfo, who serves as President and Chief Operating Officer of the Children’s Scholarship Fund (CSF), a nonprofit that provides partial scholarships for low-income children in grades K-8 to go to the school that best meets their needs. This school year, CSF and its partner programs nationwide are providing scholarships to more than 26,000 children nationwide, including more than 7,800 students in New York City.
Sometimes, a little gift can go a long way, and mean so much. At the Children’s Scholarship Fund, we feel lucky to give thousands of New York City students the gift of a quality education—and a brighter future. This National School Choice Week, we want to recognize how expanding school choice can transform the lives of America’s youth.
School choice empowers the best advocates for their children—parents—to select the best educational option for their sons and daughters. Choice recognizes that each child holds unique skills, talents, and interests, and works to match the student to the ideal learning environment.
Parents in New York have several school choices to consider. Some districts allow for open enrollment, in which students can attend schools outside their assigned neighborhood. The state has a robust set of charter schools, institutions that are publicly funded, but hold a charter that grants them greater flexibility in exchange for greater accountability. New York also offers magnet programs with specialized focus areas, like science or music.
But because the state does not offer opportunity scholarships—yet—we at the Children’s Scholarship Fund extend those scholarships to elementary school students. We currently serve more than 7,800 New York City children, who attend 269 schools in all five boroughs. Without our support—made possible from generous donor contributions—most if not all of these low-income families would not have the means to send their children to private schools.
The words “private school” might bring to mind exclusive—not to mention expensive—academies, but many of our school partners instead operate on shoestring budgets and still offer their students amazing opportunities. For instance, The Learning Tree Cultural Preparatory School in the Bronx provides their graduating eighth graders with an international trip every year. Thanks to their school, students who may not have ventured outside New York City can visit places like China, South Africa, or Thailand—mind-opening journeys that expand students’ horizons and encourage them to dream big.
With trips like that, you might think our school partners extravagant—far from it. We provide an average scholarship of $2,215, while the tuition at our New York school partners averages $5,061. By comparison, New York City will spend an average of $17,500 per student this academic year—a total that rises to $24,173 after accounting for central administrative costs.
Our partners not only do more with less—they achieve results. Our most recent data indicate that, after graduating from eighth grade, 94.4 percent of our students graduated from high school. Nearly as many also said they planned to enroll in college.
This National School Choice Week, parents, teachers, and students will gather at more than 40,000 events nationwide the week of Jan. 20-26. Our schools will hold their own School Choice Week events that recognize and celebrate the diverse nature of our many school partners. From non-religious to Catholic, non-Catholic Christian, Jewish, and Islamic schools, our partners provide a wide array of options and experiences to New York students.
That diversity explains the success behind school choice—letting parents pick the best school for their children, rather than a government official or an accident of geography. Because it provides more options and proven results, we will continue to work to expand school choice to every family, both in New York and across the country. We hope you will too.