Ted Forstmann and John Walton were two of the country’s most successful businessmen, but they’d never met until they donated $6 million to the Washington Scholarship Fund. That fund was set up to help low-income students in Washington, D.C., attend private and religious schools. (See 1997 entry on list of Public-Policy Achievements.)
After observing the powerful desire among parents in the nation’s capital for educational opportunities beyond those offered in the public schools, the men decided to start a similar organization offering scholarships across the country. Each man contributed $50 million. The resulting fund would allow 40,000 children to attend better schools. The scholarships generally paid only partial tuition, though, so recipient families would have to make sacrifices to find the rest of the school fees.
When the Children’s Scholarship Fund was announced, an astonishing 1.25 million applications were submitted. This roaring demand for educational opportunity prompted the men to expand CSF far beyond its initial scope. The organization set up local affiliates in major cities and secured long-term financial support from a host of fellow philanthropists.
From 1998 to 2014, the Children’s Scholarship Fund awarded $677 million in private scholarships to about 160,000 low-income children, most of them from minority backgrounds. In addition to transforming those lives, the fund revealed the depth of hunger among parents across the country for alternatives to conventional public schools. This fed other elements of school reform.
- CSF history, scholarshipfund.org/drupal1/history
- Article in Philanthropy magazine, philanthropyroundtable.org/topic/excellence_in_philanthropy/the_carnegie_of_school_choice