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Testimony in Favor of HB 2291 Kathryn Hickok

Kathryn HickokCascade Commentary
Testimony in Favor of HB 2291
Kathryn Hickok
Director, Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland
Portland, Oregon
March 4, 2011

Co-Chairs Gelser and Wingard and members of the committee, my name is Kathryn Hickok, and I am director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland. For twelve years our program has provided privately funded partial-tuition scholarships to children from lower-income Oregon families.

CSF-Portland is a partner program of the national Children’s Scholarship Fund, headquartered in New York. Our mission is to maximize educational opportunity by offering tuition assistance for children from needy families. We provide partial tuition scholarships based solely on income and applicable to any private school chosen by the students’ parents or guardians. To be eligible for a scholarship, families must demonstrate financial need according to standards similar to the federal free and reduced price lunch program.

Our scholarships are financed by generous local Oregon donors who have given nearly $1.4 million through individual donations, private foundations, and employer matching gift programs. Local donations are matched by the national Children’s Scholarship Fund in New York, dramatically increasing the impact of Oregonians’ investment in these kids’ education.

Our experience with the educational choices made by the lower-income Oregon families participating in our program demonstrates several key points relevant to this bill:

First, lower-income parents want to take charge of their children’s futures through educational opportunity. Parents in our program value high-quality education as the way out of poverty for their children and make the commitment and sacrifice of paying, on average, over half of their private school tuition themselves.

Second, demand for broader educational opportunities in Oregon is real. When our program began twelve years ago, the parents of more than 6,600 children applied for only 550 available scholarships. Our waiting list continues to grow even during the recession. The last thing parents who call me want to do is see their children not succeed in school, whether or not times are difficult for their family.

Third, it does not take a lot of money to change a child’s life. Our scholarships average about $1,700 for a full school year, and that amount makes the difference in allowing children to attend schools they love, that motivate them to do their best and foster their individual talents. The average tuition of our elementary students this year is only about $3,600. So, a relatively small scholarship like ours truly can make the deciding difference for families in where they send their child to school.

A tax credit for voluntary donations to scholarship-granting organizations will further encourage individuals and businesses to invest in the education of our most vulnerable children while saving the state of Oregon money. Scholarship programs like ours provide a safety net for kids who need a hand-up in their education. Scholarships make a real and immediate difference in low-income children’s lives, just when they need it the most. I encourage you to support tax credits for education scholarship donations. Thank you very much.

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