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A national foundation Monday announced a $1 million matching grant to provide parochial and private school scholarships to as many as 800 low-income Buffalo elementary school pupils.

The Children's Scholarship Fund selected the Buffalo Inner-City Scholarship Network (BISON) Fund as one of 38 recipients after screening applications from more than 100 cities.

Christopher L. Jacobs, BISON Fund president, said the group, which already provides scholarships to 650 pupils, hopes to double the number of children it serves, beginning in the next school year.

About half the grants are expected to go to public school students who want to switch to parochial and private schools, and about half to those already in non-public schools.

The grant would be provided in $250,000 chunks over four years, and requires local matching funds.

"I'm confident we can do this, but we can use all the help we can get," said Thomas R. Beecher Jr., BISON Fund chairman.

Pupils in kindergarten through eighth grade will be eligible if their family's income falls below the federal poverty level, Jacobs said. Individual scholarships will range from 25 to 75 percent of tuition, and family contributions will be based on income.

The newly formed Children's Scholarship Fund on Monday announced more than $70 million in awards, and said they were based on local need, availability of matching funds and the capacity of private and parochial schools to absorb new students. New York City is the only other city in the state to receive a grant.

"We're trying to give low-income parents an equal opportunity to get a good education for their kids -- whether that education comes from a public school, a parochial school, a charter school or a private school," said Theodore J. Forstmann, chief executive officer of the Children's Scholarship Fund.

Mayor Masiello, who has stressed in the past that the BISON Fund does not receive tax money, supported the grant in a letter to Forstmann.

"Your scholarship program complements our efforts (to improve public schools) tremendously, and enhances choices for families to whom choices were previously unavailable," Masiello said.

The BISON Fund once had a waiting
list of 700 pupils, and Jacobs said the grant should help satisfy that demand.

He said the national group also will provide assistance in record-keeping, communication with parents and community outreach.

The BISON Fund has been operating on $350,000 in donations, and that money will not count toward the matching grant, Jacobs said.

John T. Walton, a director of Wal-Mart Stores, is a founder and co-chairman of the national fund. Board members include Trent Lott, majority leader of the U.S. Senate, Martin Luther King III, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Gen. Colin Powell.

Parents may apply for scholarships by calling 800-805-KIDS. A lottery will be held April 17, and scholarships will be effective in September 1999.

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