Say Yes Buffalo is a landmark partnership that brings the Buffalo Public School District, parents, the Buffalo Teachers Federation, the Buffalo Association of Administrators and Supervisors, higher education, the City of Buffalo, Erie County, Say Yes to Education, Inc., and a diverse group of Buffalo area corporate, non-profit, and philanthropic organizations together to organize people, time, money and resources to provide holistic, year-round support to Buffalo Public School District students throughout their K-12 years and beyond.
This education-based initiative aims to provide a powerful engine for long-term economic development through radically improving the life course of public school students in the City of Buffalo. To do this, the Say Yes Buffalo partnership combines a comprehensive K-12 support system with the incentive of locally funded postsecondary Tuition Scholarships to remove the barriers (financial, academic, social and health) to college access and success for youth in the City of Buffalo.
While the program was formally announced in December 2011 and operations began in 2012, efforts to create what is now the Say Yes Buffalo partnership began in 2009.
Below is the timeline of events that led up to the launch of Say Yes in Buffalo:
- In 2009, the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, The John R. Oishei Foundation and local business leaders began discussing ideas for how to improve the local economy by improving educational outcomes for low-income students.
- In 2010, a Steering Group comprised of business and foundation leaders was formed to investigate the opportunity costs associated with different approaches. They focused primarily on existing efforts being undertaken with success in cities with challenges similar to those in Buffalo. Programs such as the Kalamazoo Promise that centered on providing “promise scholarships” funded by the local business community to incentivize high school graduation and support college access and completion quickly rose to the top. Shortly thereafter, the Steering Group learned about the work that Say Yes to Education was doing in partnership with the Syracuse City School District. Based on their 25-year track record of improving educational outcomes for urban students the Say Yes approach in Syracuse combined a promise scholarship program with the creation of a comprehensive system of K-12 student and family supports. Taken together, these two pieces both removed barriers to student success and high school graduation while also providing the means and support for those students to be successful in a postsecondary setting (be it a trade, 2-year, or 4-year institution).
- In 2011, the Buffalo Steering Group began informal fundraising for a promise scholarship program. In addition, the school district, local elected officials, business leaders, teachers, administrators, parents, and higher education were engaged and committed to working collaboratively to strengthen the public schools in Buffalo and increase supports for students and families.
- As a result of the success of the initial scholarship fundraising campaign (which raised $13 million in eight months) coupled with the Buffalo community’s demonstrated commitment to working together, after a competitive process Say Yes to Education selected Buffalo as its next city in December, 2011. With this came a commitment from Say Yes of $15 million in funding and technical support for school improvements and the development of a system of comprehensive supports.
When it was launched in December 2011, Say Yes Buffalo became the second Say Yes chapter to partner with an entire city school district. Say Yes has operated chapters in Cambridge, MA; Hartford, CT; New York City, NY, Philadelphia, PA and Syracuse, NY. The newest Say Yes Chapter was announced in summer 2015 when Say Yes Guilford County, NC (Greensboro and Highpoint) was launched.