Most parents strive to give their kids the best possible start in life, including a quality education that provides a solid foundation for success. Evaluating all the available options, many decide that private schools offer the greatest opportunity for kids to build their future and reach their fullest potential. However, not all families in our community can afford the tuition and other expenses associated with a private-school education. That’s where the Northwest Ohio Scholarship Fund comes in.
Founded in 1999 by local philanthropists who shared the goal of making private-school education affordable for low-income families, the Northwest Ohio Scholarship Fund (NOSF) has since provided $12.6 million in need-based scholarships to 14,700 K-8 students in their 19-county service area. This school year alone, 670 students, attending 71 different private schools across northwest Ohio, are using NOSF funding to help cover education expenses.
Among the founding members of NOSF was Bishop James Hoffman, who served Toledo’s Roman Catholic community from 1981 to 2003 and wished to make Catholic schools accessible and affordable to everyone. Today, NOSF scholarships are still used primarily to send kids to Catholic and religious-affiliated schools, but families can also use them for Montessori schools, other independent schools, and even homeschooling expenses.
In addition, vouchers are available for families in districts with failing public schools so they have the option of choosing a private school for their kids. However, to be eligible, the children must attend the public school unless they are just entering kindergarten.
“Our bottom line is that every parent should be able to choose the best school for their child regardless of their income,” states NOSF executive director Ann Riddle. “This program opens the door especially for single parents who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to send their kids to private school, which helps strengthen their sense of family, community, and stability.”
NOSF scholarships are privately funded, with assistance coming from individuals, corporations, and foundations. Though the program is local, NOSF partners with the Children’s Scholarship Fund (CSF), a national school-choice initiative founded by Ted Forstmann and John Walton and headquartered in New York. “As our national partner, CSF matches the funds we raise. In fact, we’ve received $4.3 million in matching funds from CSF since 1999, enabling us to expand our reach significantly throughout the community,” Riddle says.
In addition to matching local dollars, CSF sets the income/household size eligibility guidelines for NOSF scholarships, which are based on the federal school lunch program. To be eligible, families must be at or below 270 percent of the poverty level. “So, for example, a family of four making $66,000 per year would qualify,” states Riddle. They must also reside within NOSF’s 19-county service area, which includes Allen, Crawford, Defiance, Erie, Fulton, Hancock, Henry, Huron, Lucas, Ottawa, Paulding, Putnam, Richland, Sandusky, Seneca, Van Wert, Williams, Wood, and Wyandot counties.
The program application is available online at nosf.org, and the deadline to apply for the 2018-2019 school year is Friday, April 27, 2018. Applicants will be entered into a lottery, and those chosen will be notified in May. Riddle explains, “Once a family’s name is drawn, they don’t have to go through the lottery process the following year, provided they continue to meet eligibility guidelines and their child’s school attendance remains at 90 percent or better. We don’t follow kids’ grades, but we do monitor their attendance. Also, children can be added to the program as long as the family’s eligibility is maintained.”❦