American Federation for Children Growth Fund

The Background: 

The United States faces an education crisis, and despite the best efforts of parents and teachers, far too many children in low- and middle-income households are seeing their dreams denied. School choice advocates believe that children should have the opportunity to go to better schools—right away—including private schools via opportunity scholarships (most commonly called school vouchers), special needs scholarship programs, scholarship tax credit programs and education savings accounts. While the AFC Growth Fund focuses primarily on those avenues to a higher quality education, advocates also believe that states should eliminate all barriers preventing the growth of high-quality private and charter schools, virtual schools, online learning options, and home schooling.

The Grantee:

Founded in 1999, the American Federation for Children Growth Fund’s (formerly Alliance for School Choice) mission is to improve our nation’s K-12 education system by advancing systemic and sustainable public policy that empowers parents, particularly those from low-income families, to choose the education they determine is best for their child. These public policies typically take the form of publicly funded school vouchers, scholarship tax credits and education savings accounts. Publicly-funded voucher programs allow parents to use a portion of the public education funds allotted to their child to pay tuition at the school of their choice, while scholarship tax credit programs allow corporations or individuals to decrease their tax liability by up to 100% of the amount they contribute to nonprofit scholarship funds, which provide scholarships for children to attend the school of their choice. Education savings account programs allow parents to use their child’s state education dollars for school tuition and fees, textbooks, tutoring and special therapies and other approved educational expenses. The AFC Growth Fund has four main strategies for accomplishing its mission:

Strategic Management: The AFC Growth Fund provides policy and program expertise and financial support to state and local allies to design, enact, defend, and sustain high quality and accountable school choice programs. It also develops and shares model legislation for various school choice programs for discussion and use by policymakers. Over the past few years, the AFC Growth Fund has put particular emphasis on promoting academic quality, transparency and accountability for schools participating in choice programs, incorporating several recommendations for the use and publication of testing and financial data into their model legislation.

Implementation: The AFC Growth Fund works closely with allies to ensure that once passed and in place, state and local school choice programs are implemented fully and effectively; that participation is maximized and that parents are mobilized to know about, enroll in, and promote the benefits of school choice programs among their peers; and that groundwork is laid for expanding each on a larger scale. The AFC Growth Fund also encourages high-quality private schools to participate in programs and creates professional development opportunities for schools.

Communications: The AFC Growth Fund informs policymakers and the general public on the urgent need for school choice programs through various publications, new/social media, conferences, in-state trainings and media relations. It also hosts an annual National Policy Summit in partnership with its sister c4 organization, the American Federation for Children.

Leadership Development: To ensure the sustainability of school choice programs, the AFC Growth Fund has initiated leadership training projects aimed at education groups in key states which are designed to identify, cultivate and bolster the leadership skills of local education leaders at the state and local level. Part of this effort focuses on helping state groups recruit local funders in order to become financially self-sufficient.

The Impact:

There are now 50 publicly funded private school choice programs in 25 states and Washington, DC (increased from 41 programs in 19 states in 2015). In 2016-17, these programs together served approximately 430,000 students. This represents an increase of 11% over the previous year. Some states offer school choice programs to all students, some only to low-income students, and some only to students with special needs.

The 2017 AFC National Policy Summit event had over 300 attendees, with former Governor Jeb Bush and current Governor of Indiana Eric Holcomb speaking. In 2016, AFC was mentioned in 312 media stories on school choice around the country, in outlets including the Washington Post, Fox News, CNN, and the NY Times. It placed 98 op-eds/guest columns (up from 19 the previous year) and was featured in 776 radio and TV interviews. It increased its social media presence to over 42,000 followers on Facebook and over 5,000 followers on Twitter in 2016.