July 10, 2009


Finally, school choice in Indiana

June 30, 2009, is now a day for the history books. On that day, Indiana lawmakers passed a $27.8 billion two-year budget during a special session.

But just as important, that day will be remembered as the time when “school choice” became part of the educational landscape in Indiana.

While we were among those people who wondered whether our legislators would ever work through their budget differences, we were especially pleased to see the end result include a $2.5 million annual tax credit that brings school choice to our state.

Through the program, individuals or corporations can receive a 50 percent tax credit on their adjusted gross income tax for charitable gifts made to a scholarship granting organization (SGO). These organizations will then provide grants to lower- and middle-income families for school tuition or other related costs at the public or private school of the parents’ choice.

Currently, there is only one SGO in the state—the CHOICE Charitable Trust, which provides scholarships to children attending private elementary and middle schools in Marion County. New SGOs in other parts of the state may be established in the wake of the passage of this legislation.

Though Catholic Church officials were quick to praise Senate and House Republican leaders, Gov. Mitch Daniels and House Speaker Patrick Bauer, a Democrat, for the outcome, one name not mentioned in most press releases and stories throughout the state—but very deserving of praise for his hard work in this endeavor—is Glenn Tebbe.

As executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference, Tebbe has spent the last several years lobbying to bring the school choice issue to the forefront of the state legislature’s agenda. He worked both sides of the aisle, consistently planting and nurturing the seed of choice where education is concerned.

Tebbe wasn’t the only person of faith who brought the issue to lawmakers’ attention. People who joined the Catholic Action Network (through the Indiana Catholic Conference) were also very active in contacting their representatives and asking for support of the scholarship tax credit proposal.

Sen. Carlin Yoder (R-Middlebury), the original author of the scholarship tax credit proposal, said as much.

“It was also the work of school choice advocates like Glenn Tebbe and the many people who got involved at the grassroots level that made this happen,” he said.

Finally, on June 30, Tebbe and other school choice proponents saw their efforts come to fruition.

“For the first time, many low- to middle-income families statewide will be eligible and awarded scholarships to send their children to a public or private school of their choice,” Tebbe said of the newly adopted school choice initiative.

We, like so many other people, thank Tebbe and all people of faith for their commitment to school children throughout our state.

What will the benefits of the tax credit that brings school choice to Indiana include? First and foremost, it is about the opportunity this initiative presents to families who previously had no other educational options for their children, including a faith-based curriculum, said Annette “Mickey” Lentz, chancellor and executive director of the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education and Faith Formation.

“The scholarship tax credit is needed because without support from many entities, families cannot make the choice they want to educate their children in a safe, holy and healthy environment,” she said.

As has been the case in other parts of the U.S. where similar programs exist, archdiocesan officials hope that students who choose Catholic schools through this newly created school choice initiative will excel in the classroom. We do, too.

Though people of faith cannot support every piece of legislation with the word “choice” in it, this is one instance where having a “choice” is a good thing.

And we pray that individuals and corporations in Indiana embrace the chance to invest in making a difference in young people’s lives.

—Mike Krokos

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