The news being reported this morning is pretty remarkable:
Weeks after Indiana began the nation’s broadest school voucher program, thousands of students have transferred from public to private schools, causing a spike in enrollment at some Catholic institutions that were recently on the brink of closing.
It is a scenario public school advocates have long feared: Students fleeing local districts in large numbers, taking with them vital tax dollars that often end up at parochial schools. Opponents say the practice violates the separation of church and state.
In at least one district, public school principals have been pleading with parents not to move their children.
“The bottom line from our perspective is, when you cut through all the chaff, nobody can deny that public money is going to be taken from public schools, and they’re going to end up in private, mostly religious schools,’’ said Nate Schnellenberger, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association.
Under a law signed in May by Governor Mitch Daniels, more than 3,200 Indiana students are receiving vouchers to attend private schools. That number is expected to climb significantly in the next two years as awareness of the program increases and limits on the number of applicants are lifted.
USA TODAY, meantime, has this look at some people using the program:
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett said the initial voucher numbers simply reflect the fact that the vast majority of Indiana private schools are religious.
Regardless of the initial result, Bennett said, the intent is not to subsidize religious schools.
“We are subsidizing the education of children,” he said, “in the schools where parents want those children to attend.”
That’s the case with Indianapolis mother [Heather] Coffy, who is not Catholic. She said the decision to keep her children in Catholic schools was solely about academics — her son was failing in public school before she moved him and her two other children to private Catholic schools. “I really wanted what was best for him,” she said.
Before Indiana’s voucher program was approved, Coffy said her plan for this school year was to pay only the interest on her mortgage to save enough money to cover tuition.
“I was going to keep my children in private school no matter what,” she said. “Now I can pay my full mortgage this month.”
Religion was a major factor in Sarah Masquelier’s decision to sign up for the voucher program. The Indianapolis woman said she has long wanted a Christian school for her children but could not afford it. Instead, she tried just about everything else in pursuit of a quality education, including a charter school and home-schooling. Vouchers will allow the two oldest of her five children to attend Kingsway Christian School in Avon, an Indianapolis suburb.
“I’ve always been researching options for schools,” she said, “because I never have been very satisfied with the public schools.”