ALBANY - Students and parents who benefitted from needs-based scholarships appeared today before the Legislature's fiscal committees to urge passage of a bill that would provide opportunities to more New Yorkers like them.
"If my son didn't have a scholarship, I wouldn't be able to pay his tuition by myself. I know there are many, many other families in the same boat who need better options, but can't afford them. I hope the Legislature will pass the education tax credit so more children can get the same opportunity Harry is getting," said Soula Adam, mother of Harry Adam, 6th grader and scholarship recipient at St. Demetrios Greek-American School in Astoria, Queens.
"It is an honor for my children and me to come to Albany to talk about the education tax credit. I look at my life and I see that education is the key to everything. When you have a quality education, it helps you get a better job and be successful. I am so grateful that my children are doing well in school, and I hope sharing my story will help more children get that chance," said Sara Libeyeme, mother of Farwanze Mintoumba, a 9th grader at St. Raymond High School for Boys in the Bronx and Farida Mintoumba, 4th grader at St. Charles Borromeo School in Harlem. Like Harry Adam, Farida receives a scholarship from the Children's Scholarship Fund (CSF). Farwanze used a CSF scholarship for elementary school.
"Having a CSF scholarship to attend Immaculate Conception School in the Bronx helped me to get where I am today, so testifying for the education tax credit is the least I can do to repay all the donors who invested in my future. Today I am doing something to help the students coming after me," said Kimberly Walch, sophomore at the College of Saint Rose and former CSF scholarship recipient who attended Immaculate Conception School in the Bronx and graduated salutatorian from St. Barnabas High School in the Bronx.
The parents and students appeared in Albany to support a bill that would increase charitable donations to scholarship funds and public school programs, as well as give teachers a tax break when they spend personal funds on classroom supplies.
"We believe now is one of the most powerful words in any language. Immediacy—the ability to not wait—has an impact that can never be underestimated," said Derrell Bradford, Executive Director of the New York Coalition for Achievement Now (NYCAN), which supports a variety of education reform initiatives to improve student learning and achievement.
"What could be a better use of the tax code than to invest in the immediacy of educational opportunities for our students, while creating a lever for those who are trying to support great programs for our district systems? With this proposal, all of our children win," Bradford said.
Bradford is author of an acclaimed essay published last month that asks the question: "Have All Those 'White Moderates' Martin Luther King, Jr. Decried From Jail Become Today's Anti-School Choice Progressives?" The essay can be read here.
Darla Romfo, President/COO of the Children's Scholarship Fund (CSF), said: "Our scholarship families have the same desire as affluent families who can move to a good public school district or afford a private or parochial school. They recognize that providing their children with a quality education puts them on the path to future success and security."
CSF, the largest k-8 scholarship program in NYS, was founded in 1998 and is currently chaired by Mike McCurry, former press secretary to President Bill Clinton and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. CSF provides partial scholarships to low-income families so their children can attend the K-8 schools that best meet their needs, regardless of their ability to pay or where they live.
CSF is an independent, non-profit, non-sectarian organization. It is not affiliated with any religious denomination. It is the decision of the parent(s) or guardian(s) of the student as to where they will send their child to school with the scholarship award.
Since its inception, CSF and its partner programs across the country have awarded scholarships worth $654 million to 152,000 children nationwide, including more than 28,000 New York City students. This school year, more than 8,400 students are using CSF New York scholarships at 190 schools throughout New York City. In addition, CSF's Buffalo partner, BISON Children's Scholarship Fund, is serving nearly 2,000 children this year in the eight-county western New York region.
The average household income of the scholarship recipients in New York is just over $32,000. More than 80% of scholarship recipients are Black or Latino.
Also appearing before the fiscal committees were:
Raesha Cartegena, a parent of a scholarship student currently enrolled at the Saint Athanasius School in the Bronx.
Jessica Madio, who is the Academic Dean at the Saint Athanasius School in the Bronx and can speak to the school-wide positive impact that scholarship opportunities have for students from high-needs communities.
Kimberly Walch, who is currently a sophomore majoring in criminal justice at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, and a former scholarship recipient.
Soula Adam, mother of Harry Adam, a CSF Scholar currently in the sixth grade at St. Demetrios Greek-American School in Astoria, Queens, and
Sara Libeyeme, mother of two children who have used CSF scholarships to attend St. Charles Borromeo School in Harlem. Farida is currently a fourth grader at St. Charles and Fawzane is a freshman at St. Raymond High School for Boys in the Bronx.
Governor Cuomo proposed the scholarship measure in his Executive Budget. The Senate approved its version of the bill last month by a bipartisan 47-15 vote. The Assembly version has strong bipartisan support as well.
The scholarship program is supported by a diverse coalition of educators, education support organizations, community groups, immigration rights advocates, faith leaders, non-profits and labor unions.