A School Choice Thanksgiving 2014

Thanksgiving is upon us, and last year, we highlighted a few families who are thankful for the educational opportunities school choice has afforded their children. This year, we’d like to highlight a couple schools of choice that are thankful to serve children using the country’s largest school voucher program, Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program.

Horizon School at Shepherd Community Campus

Shepherd Community Center started 29 years ago as a place for families to access wraparound services that will help break the cycle of poverty. The Center’s leadership started a school in 2000 and focused on serving children ages three and four.

During discussions of whether expanding the school to help more families was feasible, the Choice Scholarship Program, a voucher program with wide but income-limited eligibility, was enacted in 2011. The Shepherd team saw that the very families looking for their help would have the power to choose their school and seized the opportunity by expanding the grades offered and partnering with Horizon Christian School. (Horizon started as a separate PK-6 school in 1998, later expanding to junior high and high school.)

Horizon School at Shepherd Community Campus, as Shepherd’s school is now known, started with kindergarten in 2011-12 and added grades over the years to become K-5 in 2014-15. As a part of Shepherd Community, the school focuses on helping families break the cycle of poverty through education. Shepherd Community Executive Director Jay Height said the voucher program absolutely influenced the decision to expand the school, adding that it would not exist without the program. Height said he and his school want to give kids in his community the skills necessary to thrive in an academic world, particularly teaching reading skills in a school that had more than four out of five enrolled students (81 percent) categorized as English Language Learners last school year.

In terms of school choice, Height said, “The state of Indiana leads the way nationally, and it shows who we care about, and that’s our kids.”

The Oaks Academy

The Oaks Academy has served PK-8 students in Indianapolis for quite a few years at its Fall Creek campus near downtown Indianapolis and, thanks to the voucher program, was able to expand to a second campus three years ago that now serves grades K-5.

Principal Andrew Hart said they were tired of having a waiting list and the perceived elitist status that accompanies it, so he wanted to give all families a chance to enroll their children. Hart said Oaks Academy will always uphold its mission to enroll a diverse student population with at least half of its students coming from poverty-stricken families and the other half from middle- and low-income families.

Hart remembers there was initially a little pushback to participation in the voucher program from Oaks Academy’s donors who did not want to tangle with additional state regulations, including the extensive information collection requirement. However, the school was able to allocate the full-time equivalent of one-half of a staff position to support the administrative side of the voucher program. Hart said the voucher program absolutely had an impact on the growth of the Oaks Academy, adding that, in addition to its Brookside campus, they plan to have a separate middle school campus in a year or two and plan to serve 900 to 1,000 PK-8 students system-wide in five to six years.

You can learn more about how the education marketplace, specifically the private sector, is evolving in Indiana in the first report from our School Survey Series. As always, the Friedman Foundation team is thankful for our readers and all of the parents, students, advocates, and schools out there fighting for school choice for all. Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving!