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New Arrupe Jesuit Profile Highlights the Power of Educational Freedom

It’s almost time for July 4th! We’re only hours away from barbeques, fireworks, and copious amounts of flag waving. Before we get to that stuff, though, let’s take a few minutes to talk about a different kind freedom: The kind that empowers kids without means to access the high-quality educational options they need to build better futures.

Although states around the country have been busy adopting school choice programs, Colorado has been stubbornly slow to expand options for its students. This frustrating fact is highlighted by the recent Douglas County voucher decision. While the Dougco decision has teed up an incredibly important fight over discriminatory Blaine Amendments around the country, that fight will take time. And time is something that many low-income or at-risk kids do not have on their side.

Recognizing this fact, some private schools are finding ways give low-income kids the freedom to chart their own courses even in the absence of educational choice policy. My Independence Institute policy friend Ross Izard recently published a profile of Arrupe Jesuit High School, a private Catholic high school in Denver that uses an innovative model to serve exclusively low-income kids, the overwhelming majority of whom are ethnic minorities. From the profile:

Even with lower staff salaries and cost-saving measures, the school roughly estimates that the cost of an Arrupe Jesuit student’s yearly education is around $12,000. Yet the school lists its yearly tuition as $3,000, and most students pay only about $1,000 of that after receiving financial aid from the school. To date, Arrupe Jesuit has never turned a student away for lack of ability to pay …

… The school’s costs are offset by a unique feature of Arrupe Jesuit and other Cristo Rey schools: Students quite literally work for their education. Every student works five full days a month in an entry-level, professional environment … [E]ach of the employers pays a fee for the student’s service, and [this] money—totaling about $2.1 million last year—helps cover the cost of tuition for students whose families would otherwise lack the means to do so. Money generated by [the Corporate Work Study Program] accounts for roughly 50 percent of the school’s total budget and covers about 65 percent of each student’s total tuition costs. Combined with philanthropic donations raised by the school’s development team, this money allows Arrupe Jesuit to continue fulfilling its promise to serve only the neediest children in the city.

Pretty neat. Yet while the Corporate Work Study Program is certainly an innovative way to create opportunities for low-income kids who would not otherwise have them, it is surprisingly not the part of the Arrupe Jesuit profile that stuck with me the most. After all, covering tuition costs is only one part of providing a fantastic education for kids. The other part is far more human.

As an education policy analyst, Ross often writes wonky stuff about money and statistics and policy. This piece is different in that it focuses heavily on the inspiring human stories behind Arrupe Jesuit’s success. Ross shadowed an Arrupe student on an ACE scholarship (don’t forget that a scholarship tax credit program for Colorado would create a whole lot more of these critical scholarships), interviewed teachers and school leaders, and generally immersed himself in the culture and community of Arrupe Jesuit for nearly two full days.

The result is a profile stuffed with compelling personal stories, none of which can be done justice in a short blog post. I definitely encourage you to give the full profile a read, particularly in the wake of a Colorado Supreme Court ruling that seemed to betray a rather unfavorable view of private schools in general.

Arrupe Jesuit is a shining example of the power of educational choice to change lives, and the school’s amazing efforts to give low-income kids the freedom to build their own stories is something we should laud and admire. But while we engage in this year’s July 4th festivities and celebrate the incredible freedoms our great nation offers, let’s remember that we still have a long way to go when it comes to expanding educational freedom for the kids who need it most. Every American child deserves the opportunity to succeed.

Happy Fourth of July!