February 11, 2005

Indiana Catholic Conference working on
legislation to benefit Catholic school students

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

“While it may be a matter of choice, families who send their children to Catholic, or other non-public schools, deserve fair treatment,” said Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference, who is lobbying for legislation in the General Assembly that would benefit Catholic schools and ­students.

One measure, the Transportation of School Students bill, House Bill 1798, authored by Rep. Phyllis Pond, R-New Haven, and co-authored by Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Howe, and Rep. Bill Davis, R-Portland, was amended to affirm the existing state law which requires public school districts to provide transportation for Catholic and all non-public school ­students.

For more than 30 years, Indiana law has required non-public school students to be given access to existing public school bus routes. As a result of this law, students at approximately 30 percent of Indiana’s non-public schools receive transportation on public school buses.

According to the Indiana Department of Education, approximately 11,000 non-public school students, or less than 10 percent of the state’s non-public student population, receive these services.

“For many of the students who do access this service, the availability of transportation is absolutely critical to their ability to choose a non-public school,” said Tebbe. “The parents of these students actually support these services through their taxes and, thus, ought to be allowed to access these services, just as other parents are allowed to do.”

Tebbe said that in several Indiana school districts, the transportation arrangement between public schools and local non-public schools “works very well.” However, in recent weeks, the superintendent of the East Allen School Corp. has indicated that his school corporation plans to end this long-standing partnership beginning next school year.

“This legislation is a safety issue and a matter of fairness,” said Tebbe. “The bill strengthens the legislative intent. In many rural areas, the Catholic schools have coordinated their schedules to meet the transportation schedules.”

Tebbe said HB 1798 is about serving the needs of the public and all students.

“We’re not trying to add costs, we’re just trying to make sure local school corporations don’t take away a right, a service, that is being paid for by these children’s parents through their taxes.”

Another important education fairness issue in this legislative session is the Tax Credit/Voucher for parents sending children to Catholic, non-public schools. A measure authored by Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, to provide either a voucher or tax credit for parents who send their children to a non-public school is being drafted with the help of Tebbe to ensure fairness for all school children.

Parents who send their children to a non-public school have essentially been paying twice for their children’s education costs. First, they pay for their local public school system through local property taxes and state income taxes then they pay the tuition and other fees for the Catholic or non-public school.

“The reality is that parents who pay for a Catholic education out-of-pocket actually save the public schools money because the state is receiving tax dollars from that family but not having to spend it on the children,” Tebbe said. “It’s only fair for the state and or local government to return part of that savings to families who pay education costs out-of-pocket, either through a voucher or tax credit. Everyone benefits. It’s a win-win situation for the common good.”

The tax credit/voucher system language will be amended into a bill next week.

Tebbe is asking Catholics to contact their state representatives to encourage them to support a tax credit/educational voucher for non-public school children.

Another issue the Indiana Catholic Conference is watching is the impact that changes in the state school funding formula and funding for charter schools may have on Catholic schools.

Part of the restructuring of state government that Gov. Mitch Daniels has proposed includes changing the way public schools are funded.

“When they change the school funding formula to have dollars follow the children, more charter schools could begin,” Tebbe said. “It’s important as the school funding formula is changed that the state facilitate real choices, thus allowing moderate- and low-income families a choice that’s right for their kids—including a Catholic or parochial school.

“We’re hopeful that as educational choice for parents grows, families will have real choice, especially those families who are least well off,” Tebbe said. “Yes, give parents a public school choice [through a charter school], but give them a private, religious or parochial school choice, as well.”

The Indiana Catholic Conference will continue to work throughout the session on promoting legislation that gives more educational choices to Hoosier parents and children in the future.

“We need to let the legislators know that this is an important issue,” Tebbe said. “If we don’t act now, it’s possible for the state’s fiscal problems to overwhelm a school voucher or tax credit discussion.”

To learn the positions of the Church on a particular issue or public policy matter, check out the Indiana Catholic Conference’s web page for policy statements and position papers at ­ www.indianacc.org.

To become part of the Indiana Catholic Conference’s action network, (The I-CAN Network) email the ICC directly at icc@indianacc.org for more information.

To contact your state legislator in support of HB 1798, call the House of Representatives at 317-232-9600 or toll-free at 800-382-9842. Call the Senate at 317-232-9400 or 800-382-9467. TDD telephone numbers for the hearing impaired are 317-232-0404 and 800-548-9517.

E-mail your legislator by going to the ICC web page then click on Indiana Government and click on e-mail your legislator.

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion .) †


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