Good work should be rewarded, and the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship program will be rewarding a lot more of it starting in the fall.
The Promise, announced in 2006 in an attempt to lure middle-class families to the city and retain those already here, gives scholarships of up to $5,000 a year to students who graduate from Pittsburgh Public Schools and charters and who meet standards for attendance and grades.
The class of 2008 was the first group eligible, but students had to choose among about 100 postsecondary institutions, including private schools in Allegheny County, and all public schools in Pennsylvania.
Starting in the fall, students will be able to take their scholarships to any private college, university or trade school in the state, a decision that will open options to about 140 additional institutions. The old rule put many high-quality schools off limits, including the University of Pennsylvania, the only Ivy League school in the state.
Last year, 710 graduates received Promise scholarships, but about 70 students who would have been eligible declined the offers by choosing private schools within the state but outside Allegheny County.
City parents who send their children to private and parochial high schools have complained about being excluded from the scholarship program, but they miss the broader goal of the Pittsburgh Promise. The brainchild of school Superintendent Mark Roosevelt and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, it is based on the assumption that as Pittsburgh Public Schools go, so goes the region. It recognizes that a quality public school system is a core component of regional success, and the Promise was tied to an improvement agenda in the schools.
Pittsburgh's corporate and foundation community has recognized the value of the program, first with a $100 million commitment by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and then with big gifts from local foundations.
Expanding the Promise scholarships to all institutions in Pennsylvania is another step in the right direction for this promising program.