Public School Students Win Education Vouchers

Thursday, April 22, 1999 in Daily News (NY)


Michael and Marlene Ruiz of the Bronx beat the odds yesterday, winning a school voucher lottery that drew applications from a whopping one-third of city parents with kids in public education.

The three Ruiz children Matthew, 12, Mitchell, 10, and Mark, 8 were among 2,500 city students presented with vouchers that will help pay for parochial or private schools next fall.

“My oldest son’s junior high school is out of control. The classes are too big,” Marlene Ruiz said, referring to Junior High School 125 in Soundview.

“I had to leave my younger son back a year in second grade,” she added.

The voucher program is the brainchild of Wall Street businessman Ted Forstmann and Wal-Mart heir John Walton.

The two established the $ 170 million Children’s Scholarship Fund, which does little to hide its disdain for the nation’s urban public schools or their leadership. The fund has drawn the backing of major business and civil rights leaders, politicians and entertainers including Oprah Winfrey.

The parents of 168,184 city students one parent in three applied. Vouchers were awarded to 2,500 students.

Nationally, the families of 1.2 million students applied, and 40,000 kids won vouchers.

Citing the deluge of entries, Forstmann declared at an elaborate press conference at the New York Public Library, “In anybody’s book, this is a thunderous demonstration of dissatisfaction with the present system and of the demand for alternatives.”

According to Forstmann, public school education in New York cost $ 8,000 per student per year, compared with $ 3,500 for an inner-city parochial school student.

“Yet the inner-city public schools lose half their students before graduation, while their parochial school counterparts graduate nearly all their students and send most off to college,” he said.

To qualify for the vouchers, families must have an income of less than $ 22,000 annually. The vouchers average about $ 1,100 a year for four years. Parents must match the money.

The vouchers can be used for a private or parochial school of choice but in some cases can be used to pay tuition in another public school district.