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Fund supports kids in independent schools

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Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In 1998, making a $100 million commitment, Wall Street financier Theodore Forstmann and the late Wal-Mart heir John Walton launched the Children’s Scholarship Fund, a national effort to fund 40,000 scholarships for low-income children to attend independent schools.

The following year, financier Julian H. Robertson Jr., a Salisbury native and founder of Tiger Management, made a $1.5 million matching gift to start a Charlotte
chapter that would receive funds from the national group.

Children’s Scholarship Fund-Charlotte has awarded nearly 400 scholarships a year, or a total of roughly 3,800, and Robertson has contributed an additional $2.5 million and made a commitment to ensure the organization receives the support it needs through 2015.

The idea is to give low-income children a chance to attend independent schools and benefit from smaller classes, individual attention and different teaching methods and school environments.

Operating as a separate charitable nonprofit, the Charlotte chapter is one of 43 throughout the United States that receive funds from the national group, which has increased its initial funding pool to $190 million.

The chapter uses those matching funds to finance the scholarships, and also solicits contributions from individuals, foundations and corporations, and generates interest from a fund totaling nearly $1.4 million that it houses at Foundation for the Carolinas.

From all those sources, the chapter generates revenue of $530,000 a year.

And in October, the chapter launched its first annual fund, which aims to raise roughly $100,000 through next June 30, says Ann Barnes, director of development.

As part of its new program to attract donations, Barnes says, the chapter has launched a twice-a-year newsletter that it will distribute to its donor base and to prospective donors in targeted zip codes.

The group also plans to redesign its website to appeal more to donors in addition to providing information on applying for scholarships.

Average income for families of students receiving scholarships totals $24,000, with the chapter making tuition grants averaging over $1,700 and families contributing $2,241, on average, per child.

In addition to housing the chapter’s assets, most of which represent Robertson’s gifts, Foundation for the Carolinas also administers the scholarship program, which provides funds for roughly 100 new students each year.

Students apply for scholarships through the group’s website at csfcharlotte.org, and Foundation for the Carolinas processes the applications and uses a random lottery to select students to receive financial support.

This fall, 500 students applied for scholarships for kindergarten through eighth grade, with the national organization providing one-third of the scholarship dollars, up to a total of $256,000, Barnes says.

And attending nearly 60 tuition-based independent schools, all of them in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, has paid off for students who receive scholarships, Barnes says.

In the 2007-08 school year, based on surveys of students and their families, 89 percent of students improved their academic performance, 93 percent improved their social skills, 89 percent improved their behavior, 91 percent improved their self-esteem, and 89 percent showed increased interest in school.

The chapter also plans to better track students after eighth grade, Barnes says.

“Corporate investors and foundations,” she says, “want to have hard numbers and proof, numerically, as to how their money is being used and what are their returns.”

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