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New Children First Program Gives Ontario Families More Education Choice

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Release Date: January 23, 2003
The Fraser Institute today launched Children First: School Choice Trust , a new multi-million dollar education initiative for Ontario families. The program was announced this morning at a news conference in Toronto.

Children First: School Choice Trust is Canada's first privately funded program to help parents in financial need send their children to an independent school of their choice.

The program will provide tuition assistance grants to 150 elementary school students in Ontario in each of the next three years, based solely on financial need. These grants will pay 50 percent of the tuition at any of the more than 800 independent schools in the province, to an annual maximum of $3,500. The grants are available as early as junior kindergarten and will continue until the students complete Grade 8.

" Children First puts into practice the mounting educational research that shows that when parents have a choice of school, children get a better education," says Claudia Hepburn, director of education policy at The Fraser Institute. "This is a pilot project and we're looking forward to evaluating the results."

Children First is a program of The Fraser Institute with initial financial support provided by The W. Garfield Weston Foundation.

"The Foundation is proud of our tradition of offering educational opportunities to Canadian college and university students, and we are excited to extend that support to elementary school students through the Children First program. This is an innovative new program and we are delighted to be part of it," says Garfield Mitchell, executive director of The W. Garfield Weston Foundation.

Research on the Benefits of School Choice

The landmark Children First program has been inspired by other successful school choice programs around the world.

Substantial evidence from the United States, Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and other parts of Canada, shows that when funding follows children to their parents' choice of school, parental satisfaction, academic achievement, and educational opportunities improve.

Research demonstrates that academic gains increase with the length of time a student participates in a school choice program. Furthermore, in provinces with publicly funded school choice, such as Alberta and British Columbia, the correlation between academic achievement and socio-economic status is weaker than in provinces with little or no school choice.

The world's largest study of educational efficiency (which looked at 39 countries) found that competition from independent schools was a key factor in fostering high student achievement. Many studies have shown that when faced with competition for student enrolment, public schools respond both by providing a greater choice of programs and by paying more attention to student achievement.

"Our vision is to enhance educational opportunities for all Ontario school children by giving parents the freedom to choose the school that best meets their child's individual needs," says Hepburn. "The most exciting part of the Children First program is that it will offer 450 families a say in their children's education."