Elementary scholarship fund established in Buffalo

February 28, 2014 Updated Feb 28, 2014 at 10:15 AM EDT

By Dan Miner, Reporter- Business First

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Elementary scholarship fund established in Buffalo

February 28, 2014 Updated Feb 28, 2014 at 10:15 AM EDT

A privately-funded scholarship will be eligible to Buffalo elementary students seeking to transfer out of low-performing public schools for the fall 2014 school year.

Funding has been supplied so far by the John R. Oishei Foundation, Diocese of Buffalo, Health Foundation for Western and Central New York, the Rich Family Foundation and the Bell Fund.

The scholarships were created specifically to accommodate the families whose transfer requests out of low-performing schools could not be accommodated this year by the Buffalo public schools because there weren't enough seats.

About 2,100 students applied this summer for a transfer but only 400 have been placed so far in schools of good standing, as determined by the state Education Department. About 300 have rescinded their application, leaving 1,400 students with the legal right to a better school but no available space.

The new scholarships, announced Feb. 27, appear in part to be an outcome of discussions between Buffalo schools and diocese officials. Diocese elementary schools in Buffalo have about 250-300 available seats, and filling them with public school transfers was a major strategic tenet of the diocese's recent "Faith in Tomorrow" consolidation. Ten closures were announced due to declining enrollment and struggling financial performance, but schools in the city of Buffalo avoided closure.

Superintendent Pamela Brown said in her media briefing Thursday that she signed off on the plan, and letters describing the program are scheduled to be sent to families this week.

The Children First Scholarship will require a minimum contribution of $500 per year toward tuition and families. The largest available award is $1,500 per child per year.

Students have a one-time window to apply for the scholarships, with applications due by May 16. Once awarded, the scholarships will continue through eighth grade as long as the students remain eligible and meet renewal guidelines.

Students who choose to transfer will still be available for Say Yes Buffalo tuition assistance if they attend a public/charter high school in Buffalo from grades 9-12.

Fundraising is ongoing to support the scholarships, with a goal of obtaining commitments for $500,000 per year which would fund renewable scholarships for about 300 students. More information can be found at www.childrenfirstscholarship.org.

About 70 areas schools are participating in the plan. The list can be found here. www.childrenfirstscholarship.org/index.php/list

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