While no English word truly captures the full meaning of the Greek word Arete, its simplest translation is excellence. It is the divine essence of the word, however, that Derek Monjure had in mind when he founded Arete Scholars Fund Inc. As a Student Scholarship Organization (SSO), Arete is dedicated to helping low-income families access quality education at private schools in Georgia. The Breakthrough Fellows and GCO team members recently had the opportunity to visit with Mr. Monjure and Arete’s Director of Communications Buck Alford to learn more about Georgia’s tax credit scholarship program and their role as SSO operators.
For those unfamiliar with Georgia’s tax credit scholarship, the program allows corporations to donate up to 75% of their state income liability to a state approved SSO. Additionally, families are able to contribute up to $2,500. In return, both corporate and individual contributors receive a tax credit for the same amount of their donation. SSOs then use the raised funds to grant scholarships of as much as $8,983 a school year. This money goes directly to families and is used towards placing their child in the partnering private school of their choice. On average, Arete awards scholarships of $4,ooo-$5,000 to the families they serve.
The tax credit scholarship program has been a great opportunity for the more than 15,000 students who have been fortunate enough to receive scholarships. However, many more opportunities exist to eliminate the barriers that bar even more of Georgia’s children from this same benefit. One such opportunity is to raise the overall tax credit program cap, or perhaps remove it all together. The 2014 contribution cap of $58 million was reached in just three weeks. In one regard, this signifies the popularity of the program and desire of Georgians to contribute to quality education. In a less positive regard, reaching the cap so quickly has already affected the SSOs, families, and students whose donors missed the cut off. For Arete, and many other SSOs,
Despite the challenges, the spirit and energy of Arete Scholars remains focused on providing the financial means necessary for students to pursue a level of academic excellence that they would otherwise be unable to access. The organization has even begun expanding its operations into other states, starting with Louisiana. Though Mr. Monjure is quick to say his work is simply transactional, it is clear from his passion that his mission is actually rooted in a higher calling.