Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Indiana Vouchers' Game-Changing Potential For Small Private Schools

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

Heather Snavely asks a student to stay seated while playing math games in her classroom at Our Lady of Hungary Catholic school in South Bend. More photos after the jump.

If Indiana’s voucher program helps fuel a population boom like it did at Our Lady of Hungary Catholic school, small private schools ought to take a cue from principal Melissa Jay:  get on good terms with your textbook company.

Our Lady’s seen a 60 percent spike in enrollment this year alone, the first year for the vouchers. That’s meant Jay’s gone back to the textbook company three times for more books.

For just three books? No.

“Three additional shipments of boxes of books,” Jay says with a characteristic laugh.

Jay laughs a lot when the vouchers or the school’s enrollment jump comes up in conversation, mostly out of what seems like disbelief. Our Lady of Hungary’s turnaround has been remarkable:

In 2009, the diocese was considering closing Our Lady — a small, aging parish and K-8 school in a working class South Bend neighborhood. Families panicked, and enrollment dropped to 92. But fundraising and outreach bumped enrollment to 134 last year, and with the help of the state’s voucher program, the school’s nearly full with 211 students this year.

Our Lady also is an example of why public school advocates are panicked about what effect the program could have on the education landscape. After all, funds for vouchers (as much as $4,500 per scholarship) are funds taken away from a public school, whose costs — voucher opponents point out — do not change incrementally every time they lose or gain a student.

Jay says the school paid for mailers to the community to advertise the eligibility requirements, partially as a way of landing families who had already expressed interest in Our Lady, but might not have been able to pay. Even then, Jay says there were parents who were willing to pay anyway, but were also eligible for the vouchers.

Now Jay’s in an unfamiliar position:  With some grades full at 25 students, she may actually have to turn away families.

We’ll continue our look at the Indiana voucher program with more posts through this week. What are your thoughts about the program?


  • Guest #2

    My question is…what happens to the voucher money if a private school kicks a student out before the end of the year? Does the voucher money stay with the school, even if it’s no longer educating the student? Does a pro-rated portion return to the state? If so, what does the state do with the money?

    • StateImpact Indiana

      Good question. Short answer: It depends when the student gets kicked out, but there is no pro-rating. We’ll try and answer this question in a post tomorrow — check back here!

  • TruthSayer

    Things will REALLY get interesting as more than just Catholic schools get on board. As more Christian, Jewish and secular private schools are able to achieve the requirements to accept vouchers those students turned away from full schools will have even more options. Hopefully public indoctrination centers will become history

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for commenting, TruthSayer. To be super-specific, when people say it’s almost 100 percent “Christian” schools, they’re lumping together Catholic as well as other non-Catholic/Protestant-affiliated schools.

      It’s not a matter of non-public schools “not meeting the requirements” though: A very large majority of the state’s private schools have signed up — I think it’s roughly 250 voucher-eligible schools out of about 300 in the state. Most of the state’s private schools are Christian/religious.

  • Onikasim

    I have another such question. What happens if the teacher decides to make students feel extremely uncomfortable and they leave just prior to the state-required testing? The school gets to keep the money and not run the risk of those students lowering their scores on the tests? It all gets very interesting when you look at the issues of test scores and how they are actually acquired…

    • StateImpact Indiana

      Hi Onikasim. Essentially, you’re right — and it’s not unique to private schools. IPS says charter schools with “dumping” students after the state counts them for the purpose of dividing up state funding for education. A similar charge related to test scores isn’t that far-fetched, and actually, it’s possible for this to occur in any school — a private school, or even a mainline public school who could pressure a student into homeschooling.

      Possible, but it’s really important to note charter schools and their political defenders doubt this “dumping” occurs, at least not in any widespread way.

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