by Darla Romfo
One day last week I had the privilege of taking a CSF donor to a school where we are helping 99 children with scholarships. On the same day I appeared on a panel with two leaders from high-performing charter schools with many locations in New York City.
Mt. Carmel Holy Rosary (MCHR) – where our donor gave a rousing pep talk to the 8th grade class – is a special place. While 98% of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch, 100% of the 4th grade class passed their state exams in math and English Language Arts (ELA) with subject proficiency and 96.2% of 8th graders passed with proficiency in ELA and 88.5% of the 8th graders passed with proficiency in math. This is more than double the average rate for the public and charter schools in the same district.
What’s even more amazing is that the cost to educate per student at MCHR is $6,300 while public schools receive $21,543 per student per year and charters receive $13,653. But since the families at MCHR have to pay tuition, which is a real stretch, there are 37 empty seats – seats that could be saving children now from the low-performing neighborhood schools.
Fast forward to the evening when I appeared on the panel. Someone in the audience who saw the panel e-mailed me afterwards and said the following, “My only concern is that the other panelists (and attendees) seemed to find it easy to focus exclusively on charters…but you were able to keep reminding them that’s not the only solution. I think some kind of campaign around the empty seats [at private schools] right now could be pretty powerful.”
He’s right. We can’t just focus on charters as the only solution. For example, in the past ten years 55,000 charter seats have come on line in New York but we have lost 57,000 private seats. So the net result is that overall we aren’t any further ahead than we were ten years ago in terms of creating high-quality educational options.
There are thousands of empty seats in higher-quality private and parochial schools around the country. For the children whose lives could be saved by making this choice, the only two things standing in the way of attending them are money and politics. We need to work on getting greater access to publicly-funded choice, but in the meantime we must continue to raise the funds privately to help as many children as possible.