Buffalo Schools Say Yes To Free Tuition Plan

August 23, 2012 Updated Aug 23, 2012 at 7:49 AM EDT

By Business First by Dan Miner
By WKBW News

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August 23, 2012 Updated Aug 23, 2012 at 7:49 AM EDT

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) - 2012 is a big year for the Say Yes to Education Buffalo program as it begins to implement its complicated quilt of funding sources and programs.

At least 13 site facilitators will be sent to Buffalo schools, the first step of a four-year rollout that will see facilitators in every city public and magnet school. The facilitators will analyze the schools' strengths and weaknesses and design programs around those characteristics.

Each student will receive the first of annual evaluations by year-end and each graduating senior in the 2012-13 school year accepted into a SUNY or CUNY school will not have to pay tuition.

The foundation will pay with money raised in Western New York.

Organizers say the program will transform education in Buffalo, making it a more attractive place for families and ultimately a healthier urban community.

"There is tremendous excitement," Executive Director David Rust said. "There are very few places in the world where students get this opportunity."

Say Yes recently announced another aspect of the program: a consortium of 20 private colleges will waive tuition for income-qualified students who meet admissions standards. They include Daemen and Canisius colleges, Colgate University and University of Pennsylvania.

Buffalo was one of 15 applicants nationwide for the program, which started in Syracuse. In that city, graduation rates have increased more than 6 percent since 2009, and the number of students leaving after 9th grade decreased 44 percent between 2009 and 2010, according to Say Yes statistics.

More than $17 million was raised locally for the program, which has committed to Buffalo for 20 years, Rust said. It will likely cost $100 million to fund the program for that long.

The donations will fund tuition scholarships, he added. Administrative costs for the program will first be paid for the Say Yes Education Foundation in New York City but eventually will be supported by local public funding.

Rust said the local philanthropic support was an important factor in Buffalo getting the program, and he credited the John R. Oishei Foundation and Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo.

Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker, Community Foundation president and CEO, said the fundraising goal is $30 million, which will fund tuition guarantees for 10 years.

She said: "The business community has really led this effort, standing up and saying, 'We're behind this.' They are saying, 'We have the workforce and we're going to invest in every child in Buffalo schools.'"

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