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Voucher program leads to Hoosier private school boost

Updated: November 4, 2011 11:30PM



FORT WAYNE (AP) — One of the most popular schools among students receiving Indiana’s new private school vouchers has a waiting list and is considering moving its high school to another building to allow more students to attend next year.

About $16 million in state money is being used to pay for 3,919 students to attend private school under the program started this fall. Indiana’s voucher program is significantly larger than those in other states, offering money to students from middle-class homes and solid school districts.

Cornerstone Christian College Preparatory School in Fort Wayne received $431,000 and saw its enrollment grow from 26 last year to 129 this year. Ninety-four of the students are attending the school using vouchers, the second largest number of students using vouchers.

“We really didn’t know what to expect,” said Tiffanie Naylor, chief of staff at Cornerstone. “It’s working out so well for us and the students.”

She said 42 others interested in using vouchers to attend the school are on a waiting list.

Fort Wayne Community Schools lost 392 students this year to the state’s new voucher program, the most of any Indiana school district. Indianapolis Public Schools has the most students within its boundaries using vouchers — 644 — but 288 of those were already attending private school before the new program was implemented.

A faith-based school in Gary had the most students in the state enrolled using vouchers. Ambassador Christian Academy, sponsored by Embassies of Christ Church, has 110 voucher students. Students there spend an hour each week in chapel.

State Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, told the Post-Tribune he’s not surprised at the number of parents who enrolled their children in private school, but he worries about its impact on public schools.

“We’re setting up public schools for failure,” said Smith, a member of the House Education Committee and an education professor at Indiana University Northwest.

Smith said research shows vouchers don’t ensure academic achievement.

“I’m going to wait and see what the results are, but there are many concerns,” he said.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett said that he is proud the program has grown so quickly.

“I hope we scale to whatever size we need to meet the needs of kids and their parents who are making these choices,” he said.

The Indiana State Teachers Association, which is arguing in court that the program is an unconstitutional mingling of state money and religious institutions, said that the program deserves more scrutiny and that the large numbers will make it harder to educate public school students.

Eligibility for vouchers depends on family income and size. A family of four that earns less than $42,000 annually can receive up to 90 percent of the state aid for a child’s public school education. Families of four making $42,000 to $62,000 can receive 50 percent of the state aid amount.



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