On Wednesday, November 10, 2011 Daniel Henninger wrote a commentary in the Wall Street Journal, “Forstmann’s Not So Little Idea.” We thought it was a great piece and want to share the “best” parts below along with a video. But we highly recommend reading the full piece Here.
When in 1999 Ted Forstmann started the Children’s Scholarship Fund with John Walton, he thought it was a good idea that might last about four years.
An almost incomprehensible 1.25 million families from some 22,000 U.S. cities and towns applied for the four-year scholarships. In New York City, 168,000 applied (about 30% of those eligible) for 2,500 scholarships. Nor were they seeking a free ride. The scholarships were typically for less than $2,000 a year, with the parents expected to pitch in perhaps half of that.
On announcement day, the fund awarded 40,000 scholarships. And Ted Forstmann took the occasion to say in public what he wanted to say about the state of education in the United States, circa 1999:
“Some insist that if we would just keep doing more of what we have been doing—spend more money, hire more teachers and reduce class sizes—we will get different results. I don’t believe that anymore.”
He said one more thing that day worth recalling. It was about the $1,000 or so each scholarship family was kicking in: “Consider that $1,000 over four years from the parents of 1.25 million children adds up to $5 billion. Five billion dollars from families who have very little. Five billion in scrimping and savings, in second jobs and second-hand clothes, in basic necessities not bought, and countless other sacrifices made—simply to escape the system that they’ve been relegated to and to obtain a decent education for their children.”
Mr. Forstmann thought the failure of the education status quo was so obvious and the need for change so dire (he called it “an appeal to the moral middle of America”) that change of some sort would come soon to American public education. Needless to say, he was wrong. Change did not come to public, inner-city education. The teachers unions won’t allow it, and the pols in the party they support value incumbency’s power more than anyone’s notion of a moral crisis.
To date, the Children’s Scholarship Fund has raised $483 million. It has disbursed scholarships to 123,000 students. It has affiliate programs in 33 states, which now administer the program on their own.
Mr. Forstmann has long argued that all the money dumped into public education budgets misses the element most crucial to the schools’ success: active parental involvement. His solution to getting them in the game has been requiring the parents to contribute between 25% and 75% of the scholarship award, based on need. That’s it. The parents can pick any private school they desire. Many go straight to neighborhood parochial schools, once the sturdy adjunct to many urban public systems. Asked how they assure the quality of the choices, Scholarship Fund President Darla Romfo says, “We don’t decide what is a good school; they do.” And if they don’t like that school, they’re free to switch the scholarship to another.