In Ohio, school choice combined with intense, holistic investment in students—including work-study programs—is producing incredible results in an impoverished population. Cristo Rey Columbus High School, like the 28 others in the Catholic Cristo Rey network, serves only low-income students; 83 percent of its currently enrolled students qualify for the school lunch program. Its class of 2014 had a graduation rate of 100 percent, and over the past few years, 90 percent of graduates have enrolled in college. They go on to graduate from college at rates twice as high as those normally achieved by students of the same socio-economic background. How does Cristo Ray do it? The Atlantic reports:
Cristo Rey found a creative way to fund most of the tuition. First, in Columbus, $5000 per student per year is potentially available from Ohio’s school-choice voucher program; if a student’s home school is designated as a “failing school,” that money can “follow the student” to a school of choice. Right now, 59 percent of Cristo Rey Columbus students are voucher eligible, a number the school expects will rise once the troubled Columbus City School system completes its audit and more schools will likely be classified as “failing.” […]Now enters the second piece of the business model, the hallmark Cristo Rey Professional Work Study Program. Each student works five days per month (one day a week, and two days every fourth week) at a paid position in one of Columbus’s partner companies or institutions. Student earnings, about $6500 per year, are applied directly toward tuition. Unmet differences come from donations, fundraising, grants, etc.
The school complements these financial strategies with partnerships with local service providers: a hospital in the area provides the kids with preventive care each Friday, while a cluster of other services like financial planning classes for parents as well as students help impart skills the whole family will need to succeed and have a chance at some kind of mobility. Meanwhile, the students gain valuable work experience in apprenticeships or internships that can help them get jobs after graduation. It’s an inspiring model—and much of it made possible by school choice. Read the whole thing to get a sense of what successful education reform on the high-school level could look like.