Each year during the period of conspicuous consumption known as Christmas shopping, I try to think of a gift that will not be returned, exchanged or forgotten before next Christmas. One year it was a goat for a poor African farmer through World Vision. Another year it was a sewing machine for a woman in Ghana who wanted to lift herself out of poverty by starting a small business.
This year it is The Children's Scholarship Fund (CSF), started by the late John T. Walton, son of Walmart founder Sam Walton, and the late venture capitalist Ted Forstmann, to help free poor students from failing public schools and offer them a path to a better life by benefit of a private school education.
CSF, which is based in New York with chapters in other cities, is this school year assisting 27,650 low-income children in grades K-8. According to GuideStar's Nonprofit Report, the organization so far "has awarded scholarships worth $568 million to almost 139,000 low-income children." All of the scholarships are partial. Parents pay, on average, at least 50 percent of their children's tuition.
The feedback CSF receives from parents is both inspiring and an indictment of those politicians who refuse to let the economically disadvantaged escape failing and often dangerous public schools. An inferior education almost guarantees that a child will repeat the cycle of poverty experienced by his or her family.
In CSF's December newsletter, a parent named G. Luz writes, "This program has allowed me to believe that both my daughters will get somewhere and live a better life in the future than they live today. None of this would have been possible without your help. Thank you."
Shouldn't having a better life in the future be the goal of any program, private or public? According to the National Center for Education Statistics, "Total expenditures for public elementary and secondary schools in the United States amounted to $638 billion in 2009-10, or about $12,743 per public school student." CSF contributes about $1,200 per student, but with far better results. Results, not politics, should be the goal.
Shaiann Frazier is an 11th grade student from the Bronx. Her mother, Trina Merritt, has been raising four children since her husband died when Shaiann was just 3 years old. As Trina tells it, Shaiann "...wasn't learning anything." She would score high on New York State proficiency tests, "but every summer she would have to go to summer school. They couldn't explain why. ... She had 36 students in her class at public school. She wasn't getting the attention that she needed. I also worried about safety at public school."
After receiving a CSF scholarship and enrolling in an all-girl private school, Trina says, "You can tell she's changed. She reads so much. ... Everything is on point now. ... She talks properly. ... I'd do anything to keep her in private school. ... I may not have money at the end of the month but it will pay off in the future." Last year Shaiann won an award for "character excellence" at her school. Her story and the gratitude of parents and children typify the responses CSF receives.
The federal government takes increasing amounts of our money to fund dysfunctional programs that don't produce good results. The Children's Scholarship Fund is a program that works. Shouldn't we invest our money where it will do the most good? Shouldn't we try and offer low-income children a path to a better life?
Check out the Children's Scholarship Fund (www.scholarshipfund.org), and consider a gift this Christmas that will keep on giving, possibly for generations to come.