June 17, 2011

Catholic Education Outreach / Ron Costello, Kathy Mears, and Rob Rash

Parent educational choice has arrived

Over the last 20 years, states and cities across the nation have implemented educational choice programs, mostly for children who attended failing public schools. This year, Indiana passed its own school choice legislation.

Indiana’s law is different, however, in that it allows any qualified parent to choose a nonpublic school for their child.

State funding will now focus on providing access to a quality education, whether that is in a public school, private school, charter school, virtual school or home school.

The Choice Scholarship program provides scholarships—vouchers—to students by allowing a portion of state funds allocated for that child in the public schools to follow him or her to a nonpublic school if the family meets the income requirements. Students must have been enrolled in a public school for two semesters before they can receive a scholarship, not counting kindergarten.

The new law does allow for any student who previously received a scholarship through a Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO) to qualify for a state scholarship or voucher.

SGO’s are funded by donations from businesses and individuals. Those who donate to the SGO’s receive a 50 percent tax credit for their donation. These donations are used to provide need-based scholarships to qualifying students to attend a nonpublic school.

In the 2010-11 school year, 284 students in the archdiocese received a scholarship from a SGO. If these students continue to meet income requirements, they will be able to move to vouchers for the 2011-12 school year.

In addition, any kindergarten student who will attend a Catholic school during the 2011-12 academic year and receives a grant from a SGO will be able to move to a voucher for the 2012-13 school year.

Thus, enrolling eligible kindergarten students into a SGO program is a primary focus of Catholic schools this year. By providing these students with SGO support then moving them to a voucher when they enter first grade, our schools will be able to provide a quality Catholic education to greater numbers of students throughout the archdiocese.

Catholic schools that participate in Indiana’s school choice programs will not lose their autonomy. All archdiocesan schools are accredited by the state so state requirements should remain fairly constant. Our schools will still be able to have their own admissions policies and procedures so long as these are the same for all students seeking enrollment and treat all voucher students the same.

It is not our desire to be the “solution” to larger educational problems that many schools deal with each day.

Rather, it is our hope that we will be able to provide quality Catholic education to those who seek a faith-based education based on the traditions and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

School choice provides parents, the primary educators of their children, with a variety of options so that they can determine which school best meets their needs.

We believe that school choice will benefit children, and we look forward to working with new students and their families during the 2011-12 school year.

(For more information, contact Ron Costello, archdiocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, at rcostello@archindy.org. Kathy Mears is associate director of Schools, Learning Resources, and Rob Rash is associate director of Schools, Administrative Personnel and Professional Development for the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education.)

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