News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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March 27, 2013

Principals at Vigo County Catholic schools pleased with voucher ruling

Opponents disappointed with decision

TERRE HAUTE — Principals at two Catholic schools in Terre Haute are pleased with Tuesday’s Indiana Supreme Court ruling upholding the state’s voucher program.

“I think it is a great day for our families who want to have a choice in where they educate their child,” said Amy McClain, principal at St. Patrick’s School. “I’m very, very happy for those families.”

The state’s highest court unanimously upheld a 2011 law providing vouchers for low- and middle-income families and cleared the way for an expansion that is being debated in the Indiana Statehouse.

School vouchers allow students to take state money — normally distributed only to public schools on a per-pupil basis — to private schools.

Voucher opponents are disappointed with the court’s decision.

Shane Grimes, area Uniserv director with the Indiana State Teachers Association, said, “We obviously have two different philosophies on public dollars going to nonpublic schools,” he said.  

Proposed state legislation could significantly expand the voucher program, Grimes said. The more state dollars that go to nonpublic schools, the less money there will be for public schools, he said.

A proposed budget being considered by the Indiana General Assembly would increase school tuition support by 2 percent, or $132 million, in 2014.

But Vic Smith — a member of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education — projects that if the various bills to expand voucher eligibility pass, vouchers would take at least $21 million of the new school funding away from public schools and divert it to private schools.  

Smith also has pointed out that school budgets “were deeply slashed by $300 million in December 2009. To this day that money has not been restored to our schools.”  

Another Terre Haute voucher proponent is Ron Eldred, principal at John Paul II Catholic High School.

The school has three or four students who have used vouchers, he said. “I’d like to have more. Financially, it helps us.”

Many people view vouchers as a violation of the separation of church and state, he said.

But schools such as John Paul II teach more than religion, he said. “We teach the same math, science, English and all the other courses everyone else teaches.”

Families that receive vouchers also pay state income and sales taxes and help support public schools, he said.

In Europe, it is common practice for  government to help subsidize Catholic and Lutheran schools, he said.

“It’s a good program for us,” Eldred said.

Vouchers give children the option to attend a Catholic or other nonpublic school “where they have smaller classes and a good chance for academic success,” Eldred said.

A school such as John Paul II Catholic High School adds the fourth “R,” which is religion, he said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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