Douglas Tuhill, Chair
President, Step Up For Students
Doug Tuthill has devoted most of his professional life to improving education, first as a college professor and then as a classroom teacher, policy advocate and teacher union president. He is currently president of Step Up For Students in Florida. Step Up For Students provides tax credit scholarships to low-income students.
He helped create Florida’s first International Baccalaureate program at St. Petersburg High School in 1984, which made him an early pioneer in choice movement. Doug served two terms as president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association in the 1990s and also chaired the state committee that created Florida’s Sunshine State Standards. He worked as a policy analyst for the Collins Center for Public Policy and managed a partnership between the University of Florida and Pinellas County School District focused on improving high-poverty elementary schools.
Robert Aguirre, Vice Chair
President/CEO Catholic Community Foundation
Raised in a family of ten on the west side of San Antonio, Robert Aguirre is the President/CEO of The Catholic Community Foundation based in San Antonio, Texas. The mission of the foundation is to manage, safeguard and grow the financial resources of dioceses, Catholic institutions, parishes and religious congregations. Prior to holding that post he served as the Founding President of the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders, which is the only national Hispanic Catholic lay leadership organization in the country. He is also the owner of Robert Aguirre Consultants, L.L.C., a strategic planning, organizational development, and project management consulting firm.
Aguirre has also been a long time education activist for parental choice as a means to strengthen both private as well as public education and to better serve the needs of low-income families. In 1994 he, along with three other businessmen, founded the Alliance for School Choice, now known as the American Federation for Children.
In 1998 Aguirre founded, at the urging and with the support of the late John T. Walton, the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options (“CREO”) with a mission to organize Hispanic communities for the cause of fighting for access to equal educational opportunities and to advance education public policy at the state level.
He was the co-founder and managing director of the Children’s Educational Opportunity (CEO) Foundation, a privately funded school choice endeavor that provided financial assistance to over 6,000 high risk San Antonio students (Pre-K through 12) with an average monthly disbursement of $600,000 in scholarship assistance from 1992 through 2008. From 1993 through 2000, Aguirre helped establish similar privately funded scholarship assistance organizations in 102 cities across the country, representing private philanthropic support totaling over $500 million. As in integral part of providing scholarship assistance, Aguirre developed a grassroots organizing model that included working with parents on a wide range of topics from parenting and family issues, health care, expectation formulation and expression, and promoting a family culture of education.
He is a graduate of St. Mary’s University of San Antonio and his business experience includes accounting and finance, oil and gas, ranching and farming, water utility management, institutional food service, commercial real estate, law enforcement, and auditing. In 2007, Aguirre was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters Degree, honoris causa, from Logos International University of Jacksonville, Florida for his life’s work in the area of community organizing, public policy, and education reform.
He and his high school sweetheart, Mary Elizabeth Ornelas – "Betsy" – have been married 44 years. They have two children, both of whom are teachers.
Program Director, Association of Christian Schools International
Vernard Gant, D. Min., is the director of Urban School Services for the Association of Christian Schools International. Dr. Gant’s department oversees more than 700 Christian schools throughout the nation that target and serve educationally disenfranchised and economically disadvantaged children. Dr. Gant is a graduate of Columbia International University, Birmingham Theological Seminary, and Trinity University. Dr. Gant has been the recipient of numerous awards including the prestigious Jeffersonian Award by the Jeffersonian Award Foundation in Washington, DC. And the Paul Harris Fellow Award presented by the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International. He helped develop two urban Christian schools in Birmingham, AL and has assisted in the start-up of several similar schools across the nation. Dr. Gant sits on the boards of the Life Skills Alternative School, the Black Alliance for Educational Options, the American Center for School Choice, chairs the Colorado State Advisory Committee for the US Commission on Civil Rights, and is vice chair of the Commission on Faith Based Schools for the American Center for School Choice. Dr. Gant has been involved in urban ministry for nearly forty years and in the parental choice movement for over 20 years. He currently resides in Colorado Springs, CO. with his wife of nearly 40 years, Cynthia.
Founder, Creative Empowerment, Inc.
Fawn Spady is founder of the public affairs, marketing and media strategy consulting firm, Creative Empowerment, Inc. Her almost 30-year career in business marketing, promotion and public affairs initiatives has earned her national awards and recognition.
As marketing director for Daniel Smith Fine Art Supplies in the early 1990’s, she developed the marketing strategy that established Daniel Smith as the largest fine arts supply catalog in the country. Along with her husband, Jim, who is Vice President for the family’s business, Dick’s Drive-In Restaurants Inc., she has done extensive community outreach and marketing events and promotion. Fawn designed the recent record breaking multi-media and Facebook campaign to announce the first new store in 36 years. The community outreach programs; “Change for Charity,” and “Good Deeds Awards,” and the year-long 40th and 50th Dick’s Anniversary Celebrations have all contributed to Dick’s Drive-In Restaurants being named Seattle Magazine’s “Best Places to Work,” and earned the company a cover story in the Seattle Times Pacific Magazine.
She and her husband founded the Education Excellence Coalition to revitalize public education through legislative reforms based on increasing parental choice and competition. The Spadys ran two statewide initiative campaigns and worked with the State Legislature to improve public education over the past 16 years. Their work was recognized with a “Best Of Education Reform Award” from the Center of Education Reform, a national advocacy group in Washington, DC.
Fawn has served on the advisory board of the Puget Sound USO, Washington News Council, and The Institute for Justice, she helped found Women of Washington. In 2004 she ran for the State Legislature in the 41st District. Fawn is commentator on education and politics, and has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Seattle Times, and on all the local television networks and radio stations.
The Spady’s have two children; Jasmine a Naval officer and Saul a specialist in Sports & TV Production.
President, Children’s Scholarship Fund
Darla Romfo serves as President and Chief Operating Officer of the Children’s Scholarship Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to providing partial scholarships for low-income children in grades K-8 to go to private school. CSF’s motto is to give parents a choice and children a chance. In bringing that motto to life, CSF has provided scholarships to more than 145,000 children since its inception in 1998 and currently serves 24,000 children nationwide. Ms. Romfo has served as CSF’s President and COO since the organization offered its first scholarships in 1999.
Immediately prior to joining CSF, Ms. Romfo practiced law in both the public and private sectors. She worked on Capitol Hill from 1993 to 1999 serving as Legislative Director and Counsel to Senator John Breaux of Louisiana and Legislative Director and Tax Counsel to Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota. She worked closely with both Senators in their roles as members of the Finance Committee and with Senator Breaux as a member of the Senate Democratic Leadership, and as Chairman of the Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare. She also worked closely with Senator Breaux on the National Commission on Retirement Policy and helped develop a comprehensive Social Security and Retirement Reform Bill. Previously, she was an attorney in private practice specializing in tax law.
Ms. Romfo is a frequent speaker on education and school choice. She also serves on the board of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management.
Ms. Romfo grew up on a farm in North Dakota and graduated from the University of North Dakota with degrees in political science and accounting. She is a CPA and received a law degree from George Washington University.
Senior Advisor of Policy and Research, Foundation for Excellence in Education
Dr. Matthew Ladner is the Senior Advisor of Policy and Research for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. He previously served as Vice President of Research and Goldwater Institute. Prior to joining Goldwater, Ladner was director of state projects at the Alliance for School Choice.
Ladner has written numerous studies on school choice, charter schools and special education reform and coauthored Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress and Reform for the American Legislative Exchange Council. Ladner has testified before Congress, the United States Commission of Civil Rights and numerous state legislative committees. Ladner is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and received both a Masters and a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Houston.
Ladner is a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for Educational Choice and the Goldwater Institute. Dr. Ladner lives in Phoenix, Arizona with his wife Anne and children Benjamin, Jacob and Abigail.