NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

School Choice Scholarships Draw Huge Response

April 21, 1999

The 40,000 winners in the Children's Scholarship Fund lottery are to be announced today. They will receive amounts ranging from $600 to $1,600 a year for four years to attend the school of their choice -- private, public or parochial. Their parents -- whose incomes average less than $22,000 a year -- will be required to make a matching contribution averaging $1,000 a year.

Financier Ted Forstmann, co-founder of the fund along with Wal- Mart's John Walton, says that nothing "could have prepared us for the explosive level of demand we encountered for these scholarships."

  • By the March 31 deadline, the fund had received 1.25 million applications -- from all 50 states and more than 22,000 communities across the nation, representing 90 percent of all counties.
  • Parents of nearly one out of three qualified students in New York City, Newark, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Washington applied -- and nationwide one of every 50 students' families applied .
  • Forstmann makes the point that if that many poor families are willing to make $1,000 sacrifices every year for four years, it is "an amazing demonstration of dissatisfaction with the present system" of public schools.
  • Even though per pupil spending in public schools has quadrupled over the past 40 years and the pupil-teacher ratio has been cut in half, Forstmann notes, student performance has stagnated in some areas and gotten worse in others.

Some 90 percent of children in America are enrolled in public schools -- a monopoly, which Forstmann describes as a system that produces "bad products at high prices." Forstmann and Walton started the fund just eight months ago by contributing $50 million each. They have since raised an additional $70 million from other donors around the country.

Sandra Feldman, the president of the American Federation of Teachers -- the nation's second largest teachers union -- complained that "there's something going on about getting kids out of the public schools, and that's terribly unfortunate."

Sources: Anemona Hartocollis, "Private School Choice Plan Draws a Million Aid-Seekers," New York Times, and Ted Forstmann, "School Choice By Popular Demand," Wall Street Journal, both April 21, 1999.


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