Western New York Business and Foundation Leaders Announce Free College Tuition for Buffalo Public School Students for Next 20 Years

December 20, 2011 Updated Dec 20, 2011 at 3:21 PM EDT

By WKBW News

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Western New York Business and Foundation Leaders Announce Free College Tuition for Buffalo Public School Students for Next 20 Years

December 20, 2011 Updated Dec 20, 2011 at 3:21 PM EDT

Buffalo, N.Y. (WKBW release) -- Hundreds of students and community leaders cheered the announcements Tuesday from local business and foundation leaders and the New York City-based nonprofit foundation Say Yes to Education, Inc. that they will partner to invest millions of dollars to bolster the Western New York economy and increase high school graduation and college-going rates for students in the Buffalo Public Schools.

Say Yes to Education committed to bring an initial $15 million to partner with local providers to deliver comprehensive supports to all schools, including free after-school and summer programming, counseling, legal services, and health care. The Say Yes commitment is boosted by additional financial and in-kind supports provided by The Wallace Foundation and the American Institutes for Research to bolster planning, research and evaluation efforts.

Joining Say Yes in its commitment to Buffalo, Western New York business and foundation leaders extended an invitation to the community to join them in a “promise” to fund scholarships for students in the Buffalo Public School system to cover up to 100 percent of their tuition at a post-secondary institution for the next 20 years.  The class of 2013 will be the first class eligible for the scholarships.

The Buffalo school board, local government officials, teachers union officials, the heads of local colleges and universities, leaders in the business community, and private funders have been working collaboratively over the past several months to recruit Say Yes to Education  to pick Buffalo as their next Say Yes City. 

Combined, the Say Yes Buffalo Promise initiative will invest millions of dollars toward improving student services throughout the city, helping to increase graduation rates and providing the promise of a college education to each of the city’s students.

Specifically, Say Yes will:   

• Provide students who graduate from a Buffalo Public School (traditional or charter) with up to 100 percent of the tuition needed to attend a SUNY post-secondary institution.  The amount of tuition support is based on financial need and length of time in the public school system which at a minimum can be four years of high school.

• Provide comprehensive out-of-school supports—including after-school tutoring and summer learning opportunities—that extend learning time for students and place service coordinators in every school.

• Support research and professional development to strengthen instruction and school performance; and

• Create tools and strategies to help improve fiscal responsibility in spending and promote improved transparency for school and district performance.

A “Turning Point” for Student Success and the Region

“Say Yes Buffalo will reward every child with the promise that if they work hard in school, graduate from high school and want to go to college, they will have the money to do so.  There is also an economic development component to Say Yes Buffalo that encourages families to stay or relocate to the city.  We welcome this new resource that will assist our children and families and improve academic achievement in Buffalo Public Schools,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown.

“We selected Buffalo because of its willingness to bring the entire community together to commit resources and rally around a single vision of change for all of its young people,” said Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey, President of Say Yes To Education, Inc. “Local leaders have established commitments across sectors to support success for an entire generation of students.”

“Family finances should not be a barrier to a bachelor’s degree; nor should anything else,” said George Weiss, founder of Say Yes to Education. “Say Yes Buffalo will not only provide the incredible support of tuition guarantees, it will lessen the struggles children must overcome to succeed.”

Since its founding in 1987, Say Yes has provided scholarships and key supports to large cohorts of students in Philadelphia, Hartford, Conn., New York City and Cambridge, Mass. Since the program was implemented for all students in an entire city (Syracuse, New York), nearly 1,000 recent high school graduates have taken advantage of the scholarship, and Syracuse City School District high school students are showing promising signs of academic progress.

“The tuition guarantee and establishment of an expectation that all Buffalo Public School students can aspire to a postsecondary education are powerful incentives which bring hope and promise to every one of our 30,000 students. Say Yes’s impressive track record in working with inner-city youth coupled with their generous financial contribution and the support of local donors will serve as inspiring catalysts for change-and as a member of the Buffalo Board of Education, I am honored to pledge our commitment to this exciting effort,” said Lou Petrucci, president of the Buffalo School Board.

“We welcome Say Yes as a partner in transforming Buffalo Public Schools and ensuring more students are prepared for college and careers,” said Interim Superintendent Amber M. Dixon.

"The University at Buffalo has a strong partnership with the Buffalo Public School district to create a better future for Buffalo's next generation, and the Say Yes initiative builds in important ways on that partnership.  Ensuring equitable access to a first-rate education is vital to our mission as a public university, and this program is a valuable way for us to open the doors of opportunity to even more students in our region," said Satish K. Tripathi, President, University at Buffalo.

Alphonso O’Neil-White, President and CEO of BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York stated, "Today, I am proud to represent Western New York’s business and community leaders who know that ultimately, an investment in our kids is an investment in the future of our region.  If you want to do something good for Buffalo, support this effort.  We can’t do it alone and so on behalf of all of the contributors who have committed to funding scholarships, I want to issue a challenge to others:  Join us.”  

“I am incredibly excited about the promise of the Say Yes initiative here in Buffalo.  As a teacher, to have the ability to walk into your classroom and tell your kids if you work hard, and you want to go to college or trade school money is not going to be a barrier for you achieving your dream.  This is going to give our kids opportunities that they would otherwise not have had,” said Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore.

Next Steps

Among its next steps, Say Yes Buffalo also will reach out to broad segments of the community to engage parents and other adults, the faith community, leaders of minority- and youth-serving organizations, and educators to be part of the effort.

“An unprecedented cross-section of this community has stepped up and declared that together, we will unleash the potential of every child,” said Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker, President of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and a key organizer of the initiative. “We want all young people to know that if they work hard and graduate from high school, college is possible for them.”

“Our work is just beginning,” said Robert Gioia, President of The John R. Oishei Foundation, which also played a key role in bringing Say Yes to Buffalo. “In the next few months, Say Yes will begin regular meetings - with community and nonprofit leaders to think through implementation steps that will affect every student, school, and neighborhood.”