A wise person once told me that the value of your life is not measured in what you have, but rather in what you give. Many, perhaps most of us, give to many worthwhile causes. This is a good thing, but many years ago my wife, Jackie, and I decided that we wanted to focus a disproportionate share of our charitable giving on one cause. Money is fungible and we wanted a cause where the results were measurable and was oriented toward children.
I can claim no credit for the idea behind M.O.S.T. In 1997, I happened to read an article in Forbes Magazine about an entrepreneur/philanthropist in Indianapolis who started a program that provided vouchers to children to attend private and/or parochial schools. The principles underlying this program were simple, but profound, namely:
* Getting a quality education should not be a privilege reserved for families of means.
* Parents are best equipped to decide where their children should attend school.
* Vouchers should be provided to children in early grades, typically pre-K or kindergarten, and should continue through the 12th grade. Starting the educational experience at an early age helps both academic and social assimilation.
* Parents should have some “skin in the game” and pay some portion of the tuition. Our vouchers pay only a part of the tuition and, together with the parents’ contribution, help in getting financial aid from the schools.
* Our vouchers are needs-based and new students are selected by a random lottery.
These principles have not changed in the 26-year history of MOST. I am very proud that since 1998 we have provided more than $26 million in educational assistance to more than 3,600 Memphis and Shelby County children. Our partnership with 40 Shelby County schools and the M.O.S.T. families have produced impressive results. Approximately 95% of the children who have matriculated through our program have elected to continue their education, most of them at 4-year colleges and universities.
Although the basic principles which govern our program have not changed, programmatically we have evolved. Launched with the 2019-2020 academic year, our merit-based McDonnell Scholars program provides significantly larger scholarships to young men and women entering the 9th grade who have achieved high academic results and demonstrated qualities of leadership and character. Currently, we are developing a program to incentivize our scholars to continue their education at one of the local colleges or universities.
In our view, there is no more important element in addressing the socio-economic issues facing our community than education. We very much appreciate the generous support of so many of you. Without your help, M.O.S.T. would not be a reality.