Author Archive | Darla Romfo

As CSF turns 20, equal opportunity in education remains a worthy goal

 Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.’s “‘Letter from Birmingham Jail,” 1963

Fifty-five years after Martin Luther King Jr. wrote these words, too many low-income children, many of whom are of color, do not have an equal opportunity to get a good education. When students don’t get this opportunity, we all suffer from the consequences, which include high rates of crime, unemployment and incarceration. Worst of all, the children themselves are denied the chance to develop their talents and live up to their promise.

Recently released National Assessment of Educational Progress scores show more than half of American students are not proficient in reading, writing and math, and have made little to no progress since 2011. Even as rising high school graduation rates are touted, the Pell Institute reports only 12 percent of students in the lowest income quartile earn a bachelor’s degree by age 24.

Furthermore, 78 percent of children from low-income families can’t read by fourth grade, putting them at increased risk of struggling throughout school and eventually dropping out. Too often, family income and wealth are tough dividers, determining who gets a good education and who does not.

It’s one of the reasons that 20 years ago two successful businessmen, John Walton and Teddy Forstmann, joined forces and founded the Children’s Scholarship Fund (CSF). At the time, King’s son, Martin Luther King III, called the idea “a real continuation of the work that my father began.” Continue Reading →

All things are possible when students have options

For those of us who follow school choice discussions, the past two weeks have given ample material for conversation, given National School Choice Week, followed by Catholic Schools Week, and the news of the imminent closing of nine Jubilee Catholic Schools with their unique history and mission in Memphis, Tennessee.

During School Choice Week, CSF’s New Hampshire program was part of a happy gathering with 350 people showing up in the middle of an ice storm to celebrate what can happen when parents are empowered with real educational choices for their children. The New Hampshire tax credit program is growing and there is a possibility of education savings accounts (ESAs) in the future. This has uncovered parental demand for more options, and in response, the Catholic Superintendent announced they will actually be opening four new schools. The size of the tax credit program to date does not support four new schools, but the change in culture and expectations does.  It has become an environment of hope and excitement about what’s possible. Continue Reading →

Disappointing day for equal educational opportunity in New York



For the last several months, the New York legislature has been debating a tax credit scholarship bill that would have increased charitable funding to help more children from low- and moderate-income New York families obtain a quality education in both public and non-public schools. Unfortunately, this week, we learned it did not make it into the final agreement reached by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and our state’s legislative leaders.

This disappointment comes despite forceful advocacy from Cuomo, who barnstormed the state in support of the plan, and the backing of 150 organizations that spanned the political spectrum and included police, firefighter, construction and other trade unions.

This was the first time anywhere in the country that such a diverse group joined a Democratic governor to support a program aimed at helping disadvantaged students attend the same private schools as their better-off peers.

Instead, legislative leaders approved spending $250 million to reimburse non-public schools for government-mandated services, including reporting daily attendance, administering state exams, and buying technology.

While the funds are welcome, they will not help families who are struggling financially to keep their children enrolled in a private or parochial school, or are desperate to make that choice, but can’t afford tuition.

Under pressure from the New York State United Teachers and the New York City United Federation of Teachers, many Democrats in the Assembly abandoned their support for the Education Tax Credit and blocked its passage, even though every one of them represents many families the legislation was designed to help. Continue Reading →

Wishing for more information to help parents make the best school choice

When Children’s Scholarship Fund received 1.25 million applications for the first 40,000 CSF scholarships in 1999, it became painfully obvious that many parents were unhappy with their assigned public school and were demanding better educational alternatives. That demand for better choices hasn’t changed; every day, we continue to hear from parents who want the chance to make a different school choice.

REDEFINED_WISHLIST_FINALEven with the rise in the number of charter schools and the expansion of public school choice, too many families still live in neighborhoods with limited options and poorly performing traditional public schools. Like many more affluent parents, they recognize that providing their children with a good education would put them on the path to future success and security. But they simply cannot afford to move to a good public school district, or choose a private school.

At the same time, many private schools – especially lower-cost inner-city private schools – have empty seats available. These private schools often operate on a fraction of what nearby public schools spend per student, yet they have higher graduation rates and test scores. The only thing standing between a child in an underperforming school and an empty seat in a private school is funding for a scholarship. While scholarship organizations across the country work hard to raise private funding, if more tax credit or voucher programs were adopted, many more parents could afford to move their children to schools where they could get a safe, quality education.

Parents need good information to make good school choices, too. When given the option to choose a private school, or a public charter school, families unfamiliar with evaluating and comparing schools often find the selection process confusing and frustrating. If parents are to be truly empowered to choose, they need to be better informed.

While many schools (and some schools districts) are open about sharing test scores and other metrics online, more transparency is needed – especially from private schools. Continue Reading →

The success of the Children’s Scholarship Fund

Editor’s note: Theodore Forstmann, philanthropist and co-founder of the Children’s Scholarship Fund, died Sunday at the age of 71. Forstmann created the scholarship fund in 1998. Darla Romfo, the fund’s president and an associate with the American Center for School Choice, recently contributed this post for redefinED.

News from the education front tends to be grim these days. Despite all the significant education reform efforts in recent years, there are still hundreds of thousands of students in underperforming schools in every state. But there are pockets of hope, and it’s important to remember there are always reasons to be optimistic.

This fall marks the thirteenth year that thousands of low-income children were able to attend the private school of their family’s choice with a partial scholarship from Children’s Scholarship Fund (CSF). Now that almost 123,000 children have gone through our program, we are beginning to witness our CSF Scholars become young adults and take their place in the world. The value of what we are doing struck me again this August at a CSF alumni gathering when I met Jason Tejada, an impressive young man in his junior year at Columbia University.

Jason was in fourth grade when a teacher at his public school told his mother, Luz, about CSF because she thought it would open the doors to better educational opportunities. Although Jason was smart and did well at school, Luz liked the idea of a more disciplined environment, and with a CSF scholarship, she enrolled Jason at Incarnation School in Washington Heights.

While Luz and her husband, Francisco, couldn’t afford full tuition at Incarnation on the money they earned from their cleaning jobs, the small family contribution required by CSF was manageable. When Jason’s younger sisters, Joandalys and Jorvelyn, were ready to start school, they also became CSF Scholars at Incarnation.

Jason’s sister, Jorvelyn, recently told us, “The day you gave my brother that scholarship marked a huge change in our lives.”

After Incarnation, Jason went on to All Hallows High School with another scholarship, eventually graduating as valedictorian. As he told us, “The CSF scholarship afforded me a disciplined and thorough education which set my standards and goals. Incarnation gave me a second family. All Hallows made me a responsible gentleman.” After high school, Jason earned a full scholarship to Columbia. An economics major, he interned at J.P. Morgan Chase this summer.

Jason’s success inspired his sisters to set high academic goals too. Joandalys, who just began her senior year at St. Jean Baptiste High School (also with a scholarship), plans to major in international business. She is already making college visits with an after-school program at Barnard College. And Jorvelyn, who won a scholarship to attend Notre Dame High School in Manhattan this fall, wants to become an archeologist or paleontologist.

Their mother, Luz, told me, “As parents, we wish the best for our children. I hope to see all three of them become professionals with careers.”

What a privilege it is to watch young people like Jason and his sisters grow up to fulfill their potential and to empower parents like Luz and Francisco to choose a high-quality school for their children. Our families remind me there is no better way to break the cycle of poverty than through education. So however difficult it may seem as the latest round of test scores are released or a new political fight about charters or vouchers or accountability emerges, we have to remember the real people involved, and persevere to offer more and more children access to a high-quality education. Our future as a nation depends on it.