Hundreds of Buffalo students awaiting transfers out of low-performing schools will now have the chance to attend an area private school, thanks to a new scholarship program.
But that opportunity will cost them a minimum of $500, a requirement that could prohibit the neediest students.
School and community leaders on Thursday announced the details of the long-awaited plan to help facilitate scholarships for those students. The proposal, which officials have been discussing since August, targets the roughly 1,700 Buffalo students who have requested transfers, but whom the district can not accommodate because it has so few schools in good standing.
Those students are now eligible for a scholarship of up to $1,500 a year to attend an area private elementary school. The scholarships will be given on a sliding scale based on a family’s income.
That amount, however, only covers a portion of the tuition at most of the 65 schools identified by the Children First Scholarship Fund. The organization’s managing director, Amy Popadick, said that tuition at those schools varies, but most fall around $3,000. It will be up to each school to decide whether to charge the family the tuition difference.
The school district could not immediately provide the percentage of students on the transfer list who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, but districtwide the statistic is about 77 percent. Some schools are close to 100 percent.
“We are very sensitive to that,” Popadick said. “However, we believe this parental contribution allows parents to have skin in the game. We want to give parents a hand up, rather than a handout.”
Students also will be required to meet any admissions requirements that schools have. The students affected are those who now attend schools that have consistently failed to meet state standards.
Several city School Board members have been critical of the proposal, saying they were concerned the interest of students wasn’t the driving force behind the plan.
“I want to make sure that commitment is to that child, and not to just help people make up their budget for a year,” said board member Florence Johnson. Several city school board members, however, were critical at a recent meeting about
Diocesan school officials are banking on the new scholarship program to help fill empty desks at Catholic elementary schools in Buffalo. Bishop Richard J. Malone earlier this year said the plan kept several schools from closing.
The scholarships are being funded in part by the John R. Oishei Foundation, the area’s largest private foundation. The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo and three other local foundations have made matching grants for the effort. The program will be overseen by the Bison Children’s Scholarship Fund.
Despite the cost, Popadick said she believes there is interest. Families have until May 16 to apply.
Sam Radford, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council, acknowledged the cost could be prohibitive for some families, and suggested families who struggle to come up with that money should try to raise it.
“You have to have some skin in the game,” he said. “It’s not an opportunity for everybody. It’s not like being in a public school.”