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    Voucher advocate takes top post

    A Tampa businessman is named president of Children First America, a school choice group.

    By STEPHEN HEGARTY, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published August 19, 2002

    After four years spending his time and money promoting school vouchers in Florida, Tampa businessman John Kirtley has been named president of one of the nation's leading school choice advocacy organizations.

    Kirtley has been appointed to run Children First America, a group that includes among its board members Wal-Mart heir John Walton, former Arizona education chief Lisa Graham Keegan and Betsy DeVos, the wife of Rich DeVos, the owner of the Orlando Magic and Amway.

    "One of the reasons they wanted me in the job is because of what we've done in Florida," Kirtley said. "Florida is really at the forefront of school choice."

    Kirtley, the co-founder of FCP Investors, a venture capital firm based in Tampa, has been heavily involved in Florida's forays into school vouchers. He has spent millions of his own money providing scholarships to low-income families and helping small private schools add classroom space.

    Kirtley has also worked with school choice advocates in other states who want to follow Florida's example. Florida has the nation's first and only statewide school voucher program.

    In 1998 Kirtley created the Children's Scholarship Fund, a privately funded school voucher program for low-income families in the Tampa Bay area. In 2001 he founded the Florida School Choice Fund, which has paid for the creation of new classroom space at small private schools around the state that accept school vouchers.

    He also was involved in the effort to create the state's corporate tax credit scholarship program in 2001. The tax credit scholarship program had 20,000 applications from low-income parents statewide this year, and Kirtley said he expected about half of them to participate in the program this school year.

    Kirtley said he would continue to live and work in Tampa. Children First America is based in Bentonville, Ark., but also has offices in Washington and in Texas.

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