Graduate from a Syracuse City School...Go to College for Free
The 2008-09 budget approved Monday by the Syracuse Common Council will help the city school district become the national model for a program that includes free college tuition for all city high school graduates.
Councilors unanimously approved a $624.3 million budget that includes allocation of $1 million from the city's reserves to the Say Yes to Education foundation. Say Yes is working to make the city district a pilot program for increasing graduation rates and guiding more students to higher education.
"This is truly transformative for our community, and for the entire region," said Councilor Stephanie Miner said before the councilors voted unanimously in favor of the Say Yes amendment to Mayor Matt Driscoll's budget.
Councilors also passed amendments to spend $60,750 to create and fill a position for minority and cultural affairs and to shift spending for the West Side Community School Initiative to keep the money on the city side of the budget. The overall budget keeps taxes steady from the current year but includes a 15 percent increase in sewer and water rates.
Miner and Councilor Bill Ryan proposed the $1 million in educational spending, which was not included in the proposed budget. The councilors agreed that Say Yes provided an opportunity to dramatically improve the city schools.
Driscoll, councilors and Say Yes President Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey gathered outside City Hall on Monday morning to announce the funding.
The $1 million commitment by the city will help Say Yes leverage more funding from the state, philanthropic organizations and wealthy individuals, Schmitt-Carey said. The Syracuse program has $100 million of the $150 million needed to fund the program. Schmitt-Carey said she believes there will be enough committed funding to start the program in September. Work will begin immediately to close the financing gap.
Say Yes has had success with smaller pilot programs in four districts, including one in Harlem that affects one class, now third-graders, in five Harlem schools. But the Syracuse program will be the first time a Say Yes program affects an entire school district, Schmitt-Carey said.
The program will include the incentive of a free college education, plus added support services that start in kindergarten. Services include one social worker for every 200 students, enhanced tutoring, and after-school programs and mentoring for middle-schoolers.
Say Yes to Education Inc. is a national, nonprofit education foundation that works to increase high school and college graduation rates for inner-city youth, according to its Web site, www.sayyestoeducation.org.
A Say Yes pilot program to give free tuition to any SUNY or CUNY college to Syracuse city high school graduates, beginning with the Class of 2009, was left out of the state budget for next year. But Syracuse University Chancellor Nancy Cantor has recruited about 26 private colleges and universities, including SU and Le Moyne, to also offer free tuition and fees to Syracuse school graduates as part of the project, Lowengard said.
...Another Say Yes program is scheduled to begin in September in six elementary schools. It will add social workers, plus tutoring, after-school and other support services to help get the district's youngest pupils on track to graduate. The program is about $2 million short of its $5 million estimated cost in the first year. Say Yes provided $2.2 million, and the state provided $1 million.