Darla Romfo, the president and chief operating officer of the Children’s Scholarship Fund, says the United States needs “to take a serious look at our education system” and parents will be the ones who matter the most when it comes to reforming education.
Financiers John T. Walton and Theodore Forstmann started the Children’s Scholarship Fund in 1998. It has provided more than 123,000 partial scholarships to help disadvantaged students attend private schools.
Walton died in a plane crash in 2005. Forstmann died last November after a battle with brain cancer. But Romfo has worked to keep alive both founders’ desire to improve the education system by providing parents with educational choices.
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“I think their legacy lives on in every single child and every single parent who is empowered to make that choice for their children,” Romfo told Newsmax.TV during an exclusive interview.
“Teddy Forstmann always said, ‘Public education is not sacrosanct. It’s not something that we support, just because it’s public education. What we are really trying to do is educate the public.’
“Should it be just one provider, a government-run provider, or should there be many choices? Monopolies do not provide the best product at the best price,” Romfo added.
Romfo, a former tax attorney who worked for retired Louisiana Sen. John Breaux, shared one success story out of the thousands that the Children's Scholarship Fund has helped create. She did not use the name of the student because she said she did not ask permission to tell his story.
“This kid has had some hard things happen to him. His dad was in prison. His dad actually got shot and killed after he got out of prison after he was trying to turn his life around. But this young man graduated from a great high school in New York, graduated from an Ivy League college, is now working in New York.
“Everything started to turn around in his life when he got a CSF scholarship. He encountered a different school, different friends, different opportunities, and he took advantage of every one,” Romfo said.
When Forstmann and Walton started the Children's Scholarship Fund, it was expected to last four years and provide 40,000 scholarships. But Romfo says initial demand from parents was so high, they felt like they had to continue.
“We had 1,250,000 applications for 40,000 scholarships – which pretty much ended the discussion forever that these families are satisfied with the public school in their zip code that was failing them for educational purposes,” Romfo said.
“You realize that you need to get up and keep doing this every day. That’s the scary kind of weight-on-your-shoulders part of it. But the really beautiful part of it is that I never thought I would have the chance to get up every day and have a job where I knew is was so directly impacting the lives of so many people.”
Even though the fund does not recommend certain schools to parents, Romfo said many of their scholarship recipients attend parochial schools and that has worked out well.
“Values, faith formation, character formation, core curriculum, families are looking for that,” she said.
When asked if she thought any significant education reform would come from politicians in Washington, D.C., Romfo said:
“I think our country has to take a serious, serious look at our education system. If you look at international rankings, we are consistently ranking at 23 or 28 in math and science. That’s not good in terms of global competitiveness for the future.
“Washington is less important to the whole issue of improving education. It’s really a local issue.
“In order for any kind of educational reforms and improvement in education to be sustainable, you have to start with the parents. Parents are the only ones who can hold their kids accountable and can hold the schools accountable.
“We know how to do it. So it’s just a matter of, lets do what works,” Romfo said.
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