Anatomy of an Award Cycle

[Content was a featured post on ACSTO’s ‘News & Updates’ blog on 03/11/13.
Click for blog link here.]

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Of the three ACSTO award cycles that occur every school year, the Spring Awards are traditionally the largest and most exciting. This year is no exception! While the April 15th relateback has caused a large percentage of donors to delay their annual giving until tax time, we are still at a net gain compared to last year because of the new Overflow/PLUS tax credit opportunity. Our Selection Committees will have their hands full! We also attribute this gain to a revamped effort to connect with our valuable partners: schools, parents, and donors.

Now you might be thinking, “What happens during an award cycle? What are those Selection Committees that ACSTO keeps talking about?” Let’s take a moment to familiarize ourselves with this important process.

ACSTO grants scholarship awards three times per year: summer, fall, and spring. There are many processes involved with each of these events, so we summarize them into what we call Award Cycles: a Summer Award Cycle, Fall Award Cycle, and Spring Award Cycle.

The award process is not simple. There are many state regulations an STO must adhere to in order to stay compliant with the tax credit laws. As such, as each award cycle approaches, there is much to prepare. The primary concern is the decision process—how are the actual scholarship amounts determined?

A glance into A.R.S. 43-1603 will give us insight on where to start, which states that when evaluating applications and awarding scholarships, a school tuition organization:

  1. May allow donors to recommend student beneficiaries, but shall not award, designate or reserve scholarships solely on the basis of donor recommendations, but may consider the recommendation among other factors.
  2. Shall consider the financial need of applicants.

The law clearly states that recommendations are allowed, but they cannot be the only deciding factor. In addition, financial need must at least be considered. That means that every STO has two options by default with which to decide scholarships: recommendations and financial need.

It is up to the STO to determine any additional factors. ACSTO has chosen to include a third factor: a narrative. As every parent who has completed a scholarship application knows, the narrative is a description of who the child is and why the child is deserving of a scholarship.

So we have what we use to determine the awards, but now who decides? It is far too much information for one person to process, especially with the volume of donations ACSTO handles. The scholarship awarding model ACSTO has chosen to use is the Selection Committee.

Our Selection Committees are composed of individuals with a history of service in the Christian school community, many of them long serving since 1998 when we first started. They are highly engaged and motivated to make the very best use of the scholarship awards under their care.

They work together in deciding the scholarship awards using the three factors described above. They are given complete freedom while granting the awards, therefore, they are able to weigh any of the three factors as they see fit on a case by case basis.

All together, this is a check and balance system which ensures that all students are given proper consideration. This process also certifies that all our scholarship awards are compliant with all applicable state regulations and statutes.

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