June 12, 2009

School choice tax credit is part of governor’s budget package

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

Nine-year-old Mia Poindexter, a fourth-grade student at Holy Angels School in Indianapolis, got the chance of a lifetime—the opportunity to receive a Catholic education.

Lack of financial resources, the typical roadblock for most parents in choosing their children’s education, was removed. The financial void was filled by a private scholarship granting organization called the Educational CHOICE Charitable Trust in Indianapolis.

Mia’s story of opportunity, featured in the organization’s publication called “Families with a Choice, Children with a Future: School Choice in Indiana,” is only one of countless others. The success stories are inspirational, yet the CHOICE program only serves children in Central Indiana and there are many more Hoosier families in need of this opportunity.

Children statewide are going to have that same opportunity if Gov. Mitch Daniels has his way. Daniels included an expansion of school choice options for lower-income families through a scholarship tax credit as part of his budget package. Now it is up to lawmakers to approve it. They returned to the statehouse on June 11 for a special session to pass a new state budget.

During the last several months, the Indiana Catholic Conference and Catholics across the state urged lawmakers to adopt the scholarship tax credit. The scholarship tax credit passed the Senate twice this spring, but the proposal died when the House and Senate could not agree on other controversial aspects of the state’s budget bill.

During the special session, lawmakers will be working from the governor’s budget plan, which contains the scholarship tax credit. If passed, it would provide a 50 percent state tax credit for charitable contributions to qualified scholarship programs.

Lower-income children in kindergarten through 12th grade could qualify for scholarships to help attend the public or private school of their choice. The contributions could be made by individuals or corporations.

Msgr. Joseph F. Schaedel, vicar general, who testified in support of the scholarship tax credit earlier this year and who has seen the benefits to families and communities, said, “The CHOICE Charitable Trust Scholarships have been ‘heaven sent’ for so many families who wanted the best education for their children. Without these scholarships, it is simply not possible.”

James McNeany, principal of All Saints School in Logansport, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese, said, “Since we are not in Marion County, our kids are not eligible for the CHOICE program. Currently, there are no trusts like it in our area.

“The creation of the scholarship tax credit is important for us to fulfill our mission of being a Catholic school,” McNeany said. “Contrary to common belief, Catholic schools are not just for the wealthy. A faith-based education is a gift that Christ wants us to share with all children regardless of their family’s ability to afford tuition. We do not turn families away because of financial need, but because of that it puts a tremendous financial burden on our shoulders.

“We are a small school with a little over 100 students. This year, we anticipate our scholarship fund to be nearly $30,000, which comes from fundraisers and the parish,” McNeany said. “The scholarship tax credit would facilitate a foundation similar to the CHOICE Trust to be set up for our county, and would encourage private donors and corporations to contribute to the fund by allowing them a tax credit.”

Mary Pat Sharpe, principal of St. Joan of Arc School in Indianapolis, said, “Education is one of the most important gifts you can give your child. As a parent, I want to choose which school is the best fit for my child. It is my right and duty.

“CHOICE Charitable Trust provided about $55,600 this year in tuition assistance. Our need was over $75,000,” Sharpe said. “This upcoming year will be even tougher as many families who do not qualify for CHOICE have lost jobs and found themselves struggling financially. Therefore, there is another group of families needing assistance.”

Glenn Tebbe, ICC executive director, said, “The ICC and the Indiana Catholic Action Network have played and will play a vital role in getting this scholarship tax credit passed. So I encourage everyone to keep contacting your state legislator and ask them to support the scholarship tax credit.”

The new fiscal year begins on July 1, the date the new budget is supposed to go into effect, so lawmakers only have a few weeks to pass the new state budget.

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion. To learn more about the Indiana Catholic Conference, log on to www.indianacc.org.)

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