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Testimony on HB 3010: Freedom to Choose My School Grant Program

Kathryn HickokMy name is Kathryn Hickok, and I am director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland. Since 1999 CSF-Portland has provided privately funded partial-tuition scholarships to the children of Oregon families whose income is low to moderate. 29% of families currently participating in our program live in Portland neighborhoods directly affected by HB 3010. Some of the parents whose children receive our scholarships are here today. Others regret they are unable to leave work or school to be here. I am including their letters and comments with my written testimony.

CSF-Portland is a partner program of the national Children’s Scholarship Fund. Our mission is to maximize educational opportunity at all income levels by offering tuition assistance for needy families and promoting a diverse and competitive education environment. As far as I am aware, CSF-Portland is the only program in Oregon providing scholarships to elementary students that are based solely on income and may be used at any legally operating private school.

Because our scholarships may be used at any private school, and parents may change schools when they wish, parents find their children are treated as cherished individuals, not as “problems” to be solved. While Oregonians across the ideological spectrum urgently work for education reform for a better future for all children, CSF-Portland helps low-income families choose the schools they think are best for their children today.

We believe that parental involvement is a critical element of educational success. Throughout our eight-year history, we have seen that when parents become involved in making their own educational choices, and make financial sacrifices to realize their goals, their relationships with teachers and administrators are strengthened, with positive results for the students, family, school and community.

CSF-Portland scholarships are designed to be a “hand up,” not a “handout.” On average, families pay about 53% of tuition themselves. The average family payment this year is $1,840, the average CSF scholarship is $1,523, and average private school tuition is $3,455. The average family income is $32,000, and many families have (or have had) multiple children in school. So these families are making considerable financial sacrifices to send their children to the schools they think are best for them.

To be eligible for a scholarship, families demonstrate financial need according to standards similar to the Federal school lunch program, which takes into account both family income and household size. They also must demonstrate their commitment to their children’s education by paying at least part of their children’s tuition themselves.

Our scholarships are financed through the generosity of a handful of local Oregon donors who initially pledged one million dollars, matched dollar-for-dollar by the national Children’s Scholarship Fund. Most of these donors renewed their pledges years later.

Their investment has not gone unrewarded. CSF-Portland graduates have gone on to pursue higher education is fields such as medicine, law, Christian ministry and forestry. Even in grade school, our students write letters describing their goals and dreams and expressing their motivation to succeed in school now so they can have a better future as adults.

Our privately-funded experiment in a grant program for needy families has demonstrated several key points:

First, since 1999, CSF-Portland has proven that low-income parents desire to take charge of their children’s futures through educational opportunity, and, when given a choice, they do so. While their financial means are limited, our parents are knowledgeable about their options and determined to make any sacrifice to raise their children to be responsible, productive and respectful citizens capable of giving to others now and in adulthood. Parents 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 tuition themselves.

Second, the demand for scholarships is real and overwhelming: When our program began, the parents of 6,639 children in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties applied for only 550 available scholarships. Private philanthropy alone cannot meet the need and desire of lower-income families to make responsible choices in their children’s best interests. HB 3010 would help to meet that need.

Third, it does not take a lot of money to make a difference in a child’s life. Our scholarships average about $1,500 and make the difference in allowing children to attend schools they love, that motivate them to do their best and foster their individual talents. The opportunities open to these children by attending the schools of their parents’ choice make a difference. CSF-Portland families regularly call or write to say “thank you” to our donors. The simple fact communicated by each of our parents is this: A mere $1,500 per year makes a night-and-day difference in a child’s life.

The benefits of a grant program for families such as those affected by HB 3010 are not theoretical for us at CSF-Portland. CSF-Portland is about options: options for parents to choose the environment best suited to their children’s needs, and options for children to thrive in the right places for them as individuals. HB 3010 extends these options to children in our community who need them most.

To paraphrase one mother: “[Children of means] have lots of choices. Let’s give the other kids some choices, too.”

Thank you very much. I would be happy to answer any questions.

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