Monday, June 02, 2003

Dammit, Private Schools Have Empty Seats!

The worst part about children stuck in failing schools in Los Angeles (or anywhere, USA) is the open slots in better private schools that remain empty every year while these children suffer with overcrowded conditions. In a LA Daily News commentary, Michael Warder, the executive director of the Los Angeles Children's Scholarship Fund, explains the plight of these children in one of the worst-performing schools in Los Angeles:

Manchester Avenue School is arguably the worst elementary school in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Its students tested last spring in the very lowest of the lowest 10 percent of California schools. And the state ranks among the poorest performers in the country. . . .

Currently 1,694 students are crammed into the buildings in grades K-5. My respect for the administrators and teachers who faithfully do their job each day there is enormous.. . .

A few blocks down the street from Manchester is St. Michael's, a K-8 elementary school. Currently it has 242 students, but it could hold 315.

Despite being a private school, it is not a school for the economic or social elite. About 84 percent of the children who attend St. Michael's qualify for the federal lunch program. About 54 percent of its students are African-American, and 46 percent are Latino.

The basic tuition for children who are not part of the parish is $2,180, although the second child in a family would pay only $940. While tuition levels are low because of subsidies from the Catholic Church, children who attend need not be Catholic.

There is a wide body of scholarship showing that such private schools, even when controlling for demographics, do a better job at educating. This is especially the case when private schools are compared with the worst public schools.

In addition to St. Michael's, there are 11 other private schools in that same ZIP code area. If some of those children could move to these private schools, where there is room, at the minimum it would relieve the overcrowding and the busing in the public schools.

Private philanthropy could help. The Los Angeles Children's Scholarship Fund, for instance, provides partial-tuition scholarships for 145 children who live in 90044 with a total of $181,000. The average family income of the families in our program in that area is $18,060. The average tuition in the area is $2,734. This means that these families heroically pay about $1,486 a year of the tuition!

Throughout the city of Los Angeles, we offer 2,426 such scholarships. When they were first offered in 1999, we received more than 50,000 applications. There are perhaps 12,000 to 14,000 empty spaces in the 551 private schools located within the LAUSD geographic area.

Michael goes on to argue for a Florida, Arizona, or Pennsylvania-style tax credit to generate more scholarships for students in failing Los Angeles schools to take advantage of the empty seats in LA private schools.

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