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Scholarships for Children Needed Today

By Betsy P. Chapman

August 8, 2001

When I received the letter from the Maine Children's Scholarship Fund, I jumped and touched the roof. "Thank you for allowing me to continue to believe in the dream I had two years ago when I moved to Maine. I want to be a computer engineer and my school is one of the steps in the process of attaining my goal."

This is the reaction of a 2001 scholarship winner, age 17, son of a single mom who is working on her degree at the University of Maine.

Scholarships for children? That is the mission of the Maine Children's Scholarship Fund (MCSF) of Bangor, a statewide program. Low-income families can now look at the MCSF for a chance to receive a scholarship to make their education dreams a reality.

The MCSF supports and encourages parents and students who are strongly committed to education. The grip is working to enable low-income families to have the same education choices as middle-and upper-income families. Scholarships for the children of low-income families are significantly underfunded with most of the focus on the college or post secondary level. Kindergarten through 12th grade financial aid has been neglected.

There is a substantial demand in Maine for scholarships for children. When the MCSF, new in its second year began accepting applications, they were overwhelmed by the response; 485 students applied for the few scholarships available. Applications were received from counties all over the state, with a somewhat higher concentration in Penobscot County.

The average scholarship is $1,400, less then the maximum of 75 percent tuition up to $1,700. Most private schools in Maine have very low tuition charges and often reduce the rates further for the third and fourth child. In addition, scholarships of up to $500 are available to homeschoolers toward education curriculum and books. Eight homeschoolers won scholarships this year, one public school student and the remaining will attend private school.

By random selection, 8 percent of the qualified students won scholarships. Adding last year's scholarship winners, the group is providing 53 scholarships with a total value of $74,200. With the help of local philanthropists and a national foundation grant, the MCSF hopes to next year double the total of 106 scholarships with about $150,000. This is all new money to education in Maine.

Some people have asked if the money wouldn't be better spend improving the public schools. One way to address that question would be to ask if one all-purpose government shoe store wouldn't be the most efficient method of providing work shoes, hiking boots, ballroom slippers and sandals. Our current shoe design and distribution system offers great variety and options. There are many shoe stores offing many kinds of shoes to meet the needs for the varying shapes and sizes of people's feet, not to mention preferences.

Different children learn in different ways, as any teacher will tell you. Teachers use a variety of approaches to educate each child. Offering varied education setting of private schools and homeschooling in addition to public school further broadens the range of leaning approaches, and better meets the needs of many students and families.

As we move toward a society more tolerant of different approaches and differing perspectives, we more see the value in meeting people's needs in different ways.

The Maine Children's Scholarship Fund will again be accepting applications from Jan. 1 to April 30, 2002. Applications are available on the Website, www.mecsf.org.

Betsy P. Chapman is president of the Maine Children's Scholarship Fund
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