Monday, May 28, 2012
TERRE HAUTE — Twenty-seven Vigo County students benefited from tax-supported vouchers during the first year of the Choice Scholarship Program, and that number is expected to grow for 2012-13, say Indiana school choice leaders who visited Terre Haute Thursday.
Of the 27 vouchers, 18 were for St. Patrick’s School, eight for the Terre Haute Seventh Day Adventist school and one for John Paul II Catholic High School, according to School Choice Indiana.
Statewide, nearly 4,000 students were approved for the voucher program, and Indiana had the largest first-year voucher program in the nation, choice leaders say.
The Legislature approved the program in 2011. The legislation allowed 7,500 private school vouchers for 2011-12, 15,000 in 2012-13 and an unlimited number after that.
“Now, we’re focused on getting the word out for Year Two of the program,” said Lindsey Brown, the executive director of School Choice Indiana. “We’ve seen that nationally it takes a few years to really spread the word.”
Brown and other choice leaders toured St. Patrick’s, where they also met with parents and legislators and heard student “success stories.”
John Elcesser, executive director of the Indiana Non-Public Education Association, has traveled the state and heard how the voucher program “is changing lives.” At St. Patrick’s, one parent using the voucher program talked about how her children have “turned around academically” at the parochial school, he said.
To Elcesser, what’s important is not so much the numbers of participants, but how the program is providing “accessible and affordable” options for students and helping them be successful.
According to Brown, “We support all high-quality options,” whether it’s traditional public, charter or nonpublic.
Choice leaders noted that 85 percent of those receiving vouchers in Indiana qualified for free/reduced lunch.
Vouchers have enabled these students to attend schools that better meet their needs, said Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference. Otherwise, in the past, many of them may not have been able to afford private school options, he said.
“This program has made that difference to them,” Tebbe said, with some describing it as “a Godsend.”
There are various reasons why families want to participate, Brown said. For some, it may be “to get into a better academic setting,” she said.
But for many other families, “It’s not that the public school system is bad. It’s simply that the nonpublic school they are choosing has something to offer that is a good fit for them,” Brown said.
More private schools will participate in the second year of the program, she said. She also expects to see more people take advantage of the program.
Last year, because the program was new, families could not apply until July. This year, the application window opened in February. St. Patrick’s indicated they expect the number of students attending on voucher could double for 2012-13, Elcesser said. “We’re hearing that around the state,” he said.
Asked about whether growing voucher programs might have an adverse impact on public school funding and programs, Brown said, “I think we’ve got to focus on the kids and money following the kids.”
Nationally, choice programs and competition cause public schools to “raise the bar” and “expend funds more efficiently,” Brown said. While she wouldn’t want public schools to have to make program cuts, “I think they are forced often to be a little more creative with how they spend their funds and how they educate their kids.”
Elcesser believes that vouchers, school choice and competition are pushing both public and nonpublic schools “to get better.” The end result is that children are better served, he said.
Brown refutes the argument that private or charter schools “cherry pick” only the best students. The opposite is true, she said. “Students who are being successful in their traditional public schools … aren’t leaving,” she said.
It’s typically the students who are struggling and need extra attention or a different setting who are participating in voucher programs or attending a charter or a magnet school option, she said.
Elcesser said it’s his “dream” to have public and private schools work together to address educational issues and that they “tear down the territorial stuff … We don’t have to be in silos.”
But he also noted, “We’re not there yet.”
Also visiting Terre Haute on Thursday was Robert Enlow, the president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.
For parents who think they may be interested in vouchers, an informational meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. June 14 at St. Patrick School, 449 S. 19th St. The meeting is open to the public. For questions, contact Kent@School
For more information, visit SchoolChoiceIndiana.com. People also can go to MyChoiceINed.com to determine whether they are eligible to participate in the voucher program.
Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or email@example.com.