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Posted: May 01, 2011

ACE for excellence

Alliance for Choice in Education fuels Cranberg's passion for reform

Mike Cote

Alex Cranberg and his wife, Susan Morrice, have two school-age daughters, so his interest in education is more than a passing notion. And through them, he appreciates that no system of teaching, no specific classroom structure, works for every child.

Ten years ago, Cranberg was among several Denver businessmen who founded the Alliance for Choice in Education, a nonprofit that provides students from low-income families privately funded K-12 scholarships and college-prep help. Watching his two daughters navigate their educational experiences has given his work with ACE special meaning.

"It certainly allowed me to learn a lot more about choice in a very personal and very powerful way than I possibly could have as academic observer of the scene," Cranberg said. "Both of our children have had an opportunity to experience plenty of school choice in response to their own particular needs.

"Our older daughter in particular has been to a wide variety of different schools and has explored just about every option I could have imagined and then some. Most recently, what she's doing is splitting her time between early college and high school actually taking advantage of an inner-city private school curriculum."

ACE has awarded more than 6,000 scholarships totaling more than $12 million and works with 200 partner schools.

"It was in response to the failed initiative to create a voucher program," said Cranberg, who recently was appointed to a six-year term to the University of Texas System Board of Regents. "We figured we couldn't just tell other people to spend their money. We should ourselves. We could put together a demonstration project to show what happens when kids got additional opportunities beyond those that were originally offered."

Although ACE has been associated with private schools, Cranberg stresses that it advocates for choice in education overall and supports the rise of charter schools in the public school system.

"Kids are very diverse, and their needs are very diverse. They need to have products that are designed for them, and not just for everybody or the average," he said. "We've always been big believers in the underlying fundamental principle of choice and competition, wherever that can be derived. And that doesn't necessarily mean private. Since ACE was founded there has gotten to be more and more public competition and public choice - true competitive choice, not just flavors of the same basic product. The biggest piece of that is the growth of the charter movement."

Steve Farber, a partner with the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, joined the ACE board several years ago. Known as a kingmaker in Democratic politics, Farber crossed party lines to work with a conservative oil and gas executive.

"When you look at the results of ACE in terms of how many kids it's helped, you know the impact Alex has had in our community," said Farber, whose participation has "nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the program. I just enjoy working with the people on the ACE board."
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Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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