- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 24, 2004

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Education Secretary Rod Paige yesterday announced that the Washington Scholarship Fund will administer the District’s five-year, $70 million school-voucher program for low-income families.

The Washington Scholarship Fund, a private nonprofit that has provided more than $10 million in private-school scholarships to D.C. students during the past decade, will oversee the experimental voucher program, which will allow students from low-performing schools to receive federal funds to attend private schools.

“For these students, this is education emancipation,” Mr. Paige said at a joint news conference with the mayor at the District Building.

Mr. Paige said the Washington Scholarship Fund is a “credible, capable, competent administrator” for the first federally funded school-voucher program.

“There is a lot of work ahead of us,” Mr. Williams said. “This has been a long road and it will be tough, but it’s time to step on the mound and see the vista ahead of us.”

The program’s administrator will establish private-school vouchers of up to $7,500 for as many as 2,000 children each year, starting this fall. In addition, the administrator must recruit schools for the program from the District’s 105 private schools and help families place their children, who will be selected randomly for admission in the program.

The law requires that the priority for vouchers be given to low-income families with children in 15 low-performing D.C. elementary and secondary public schools identified for improvement or corrective action under the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Families whose children are eligible for free or reduced-cost school lunches under federal poverty guidelines also must be given priority to meet the law’s requirement that the voucher program “target resources to students and families that lack the financial resources to take advantage of available educational options.”

The Washington Scholarship Fund is chaired by Joseph E. Robert Jr., chief executive officer of J.E. Robert Cos., a private commercial real estate and asset management firm. Mr. Robert also leads Fight for Children, a District-based charity that raises money for children’s causes.

Former White House counsel C. Boyden Gray, a senior partner of the law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering LLP, serves as the fund’s vice chairman. Other board members include James V. Kimsey, former chief executive officer of America Online; Shirley G. Hayes, principal of the Nannie Helen Burroughs School; and Lonnie P. Taylor, a vice president for Nextel Communications Inc.

Sally Sacher, president and chief executive officer of the Washington Scholarship Fund, said the group is “2,000 percent committed to making this work for our students, their families and schools. It will take everything in our power to get this program up and running in time for the fall.”

Her first priority is to get school participation agreements from as many private schools as possible and to give “undivided attention to outreach to families and schools. They need to know now and fast what their participation means,” Ms. Sacher said.

Meanwhile, Fight for Children has begun advertising the voucher program via television ads featuring Grammy Award-winning producer Quincy Jones.

The Web site www.dcscholarship.org and toll-free number 1-888/329-6884 have been set up to inform families interested in participating in the voucher program, Ms. Sacher said.

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