A few years ago, Lynette Swanson’s family situation changed and the Billings mother took on the financial responsibility of private education for her three children.
Without help from ACE Scholarships Montana, Swanson said, she would have had to pull her children from the Billings Catholic Schools system and send them to public school.
“It would have been awful,” said Swanson, whose children have attended BCS since kindergarten. “It’s the only life they’ve ever known.” Swanson has a son who is a junior, a daughter in eighth grade and a son in fifth grade.
With ACE’s scholarships, Swanson expects her children all will graduate from BCS. “It’s been a blessing,” she said.
Swanson is among parents of 520 Montana children who received nearly $1 million in scholarships in 2012-13 during the first year of the nonprofit group’s operation in the state. The scholarships went to 47 private schools in Montana.
ACE Scholarships began operating in Montana with the help of a $4.6 million investment from Greg and Susan Gianforte, of Bozeman. Greg Gianforte is the founder and former CEO of RightNow Technologies, a Bozeman software firm that Oracle Corp. bought in 2012 for $1.8 billion. He also is chairman of the board at Petra Academy, a private Christian school in Bozeman.
During a news conference Friday at St. Francis Intermediate, Gianforte said ACE Scholarships provided 105 scholarships to eight schools in Billings.
The scholarships averaged about $2,000 each and are aimed at low- to moderate-income families, he said. Families also have to contribute to the cost of educating their children.
“They’ve got skin in the game,” he said.
“This is really all about helping parents have choice,” Gianforte said.
ACE Scholarships is funded by private business and education leaders, Gianforte said, and “there’s no government money.”
Jonathan Tee, chief of operations for ACE Scholarships in Denver, said the program received 800 applications to fill the scholarship’s 500 openings. Help from Montana business leaders allowed ACE to provide scholarships to 520 children, he said. The program is expecting to add five more schools next year.
There is no religious requirement for private schools to participate, Gianforte said.
Yellowstone County schools that received ACE scholarships include Billings Central Catholic Schools, Billings Christian Schools, Billings Educational Academy, Grace Montessori Academy, St. Francis Intermediate, Primary and Upper schools and Trinity Lutheran Billings.