Mt. Airy resident and single mom Crystal Best (left) was thrilled to win a scholarship for four years to DePaul Catholic School in Germantown for her daughter, 8-year-old Cydney (right).

by Elizabeth Coady

Four years ago, Mt. Airy resident Crystal Best won the lottery, but it had nothing to do with any scratch-off ticket or hitting the Mega Millions jackpot.

Best is the single mom to 8-year-old Cydney for whom she applied and won a tuition scholarship from the Children’s Scholarship Fund of Philadelphia. The award provided a $1,000 scholarship for four consecutive years toward the $4,500 tuition at DePaul Catholic School in Germantown.

“It was like a blessing,’’ said Best, 34, who works as an educational coordinator at a Philadelphia alternative public school. “A thousand dollars may not seem like a lot to you,’’ she said, “but it was like winning the lottery for me. I could not imagine having to pay that extra thousand dollars.’’

The Children’s Scholarship Fund of Philadelphia is one of 22 partners of the national nonprofit created to give lower-income area families the financial aid to send their children to tuition-based private schools. Founded in 1998 by venture capitalist Ted Forstmann and John Walton of the Walmart fortune, the scholarship program aims to provide financial support for parents who want better educations for their elementary-aged children than they could afford to pay on their own.

In the national program’s launch year, 1.25 million families from 22,000 U.S. cities and towns applied for the scholarships. The demand shocked the founders and turned their planned four-year project into a permanent endeavor, and its immediate success “entered the realm of legend,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Now 20 years later, CSF has provided $741 million in scholarships to 166,000 children to attend partnering private schools. For the 2017-2018 school year, $46.4 million has been awarded in scholarships nationwide. Both Forstmann and Walton have since died, but their legacy lives in the program that the WSJ hailed as a “not-so little idea.’’

The Children’s Scholarship Fund of Philadelphia is only one of 50 organizations to receive a score of 100 from Charity Navigator, placing it in the “top 0.6 percent of 8,000 organizations rated on the site for its financial strength, accountability and transparency,’’ according to Generocity.

This year, the Philadelphia organization will pay out $9,735,965 to aid 5,300 participating area students. In Philadelphia, parents are required to pay a minimum of $500 for their child’s tuition, according to London Faust, a spokesperson for CSFP. Nationally, the program requires that parents pay 25 percent of their child’s tuition, “making them fully invested in their children’s education,’’ touts CSF’s national website.

Best, of Mt. Airy, says she wanted her daughter to attend DePaul because of its strong program emphasizing both academics and emotional well-being. A “parent ambassador” for the financial aid program, Best says a good education will help to ensure her daughter’s success in the future.

“I like how they focus on the whole child,’’ she said. “I don’t want to put down the public schools because we have some great teachers and great schools.’’

But she said that DePaul focuses on the “mental, physical and spiritual’’ and offers a quality, affordable education. “My family is religious,’’ she said.

Class size at her neighborhood school also was a deciding factor to send her daughter to a private school. “I wouldn’t put my daughter into the neighborhood school where we live because the class size is too big,’’ she said.

This year, 10,000 are expected to apply for the 2,000 scholarships offered to Philadelphia families. The deadline for applying for the organization’s ‘‘priority lottery’’ is Nov. 15; a subsequent deadline for tuition help for the 2019-2020 school year is March 1. About 80 percent of the 2,000 scholarship winners for the following school year will be selected from applicants filing by Nov. 15. Families will be notified in December if they win the financial aid.

In Philadelphia, the average annual income of applicant families is $32,000. The four-year scholarships are offered for K-through- 8th grade students attending one of the 170 schools partnering with CSF Philadelphia. The maximum scholarship awarded is $2,900 annually per child. Up to three children per family can receive tuition aid annually. Students must live in Philadelphia to qualify and keep strong attendance to remain eligible.

Visit csfphiladelphia.org/scholarships/how-to-apply to apply for the aid, or call 215-670- 8411.

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