September 16, 2011

Principals, priests and staff work hard to share benefits of voucher program

By John Shaughnessy

Rita Parsons already had a plan in place when the Indiana school voucher program went into effect on July 1.

As the principal of Holy Spirit School in Indianapolis, Parsons wanted to help as many families as possible benefit from the state program that offers parents of certain income levels financial assistance to select a school of their choice for their children.

Her approach was also supported at the parish level when Msgr. Paul Koetter, pastor of Holy Spirit Parish, encouraged eligible parishioners to look into the voucher program as a way of making a Catholic education more affordable for their children.

As a result, 89 students at Holy Spirit School are benefiting from the voucher program, which puts the eastside elementary school at the top of the list for Catholic schools in the archdiocese. Forty-four of those 89 students are new to the school, according to Parsons.

“Their parents are just so excited to have their kids here,” she says. “It’s been very emotional. Some people were crying. A lot of our families were cutting nickels and dimes. We have one family of four boys, just a neat family, who were members of the parish, but there was no way financially for them to be here. But because of the vouchers, they are able to do it. It’s something they’ve always wanted, but they had no choice before. They’re very appreciative.”

The hard work of principals, priests and other school staff members has made a huge difference in enabling 1,028 Catholic school students across the archdiocese to benefit from the voucher program, according to Rob Rash, an assistant superintendent of Catholic schools for the archdiocese.

That aggressive approach also had a significant impact at Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School in Indianapolis, where 58 students are being helped by the voucher system.

“It’s a wonderful benefit for families,” says Gregory Perkins, Cardinal Ritter’s president. “There’s still a sacrifice on people’s parts because vouchers do not cover the full tuition, but they do provide a better bridge to that gap. You see the smiles on people’s faces. They can see that they can really make it work. They’re not coming for free, but they can make it within the household budget. And that’s a key point.”

The vouchers can also have a ripple effect on the school’s finances.

“It does free up financial aid for other families, and there’s definitely an impact on the school budget,” Perkins says. “We would have met the budget anyway, but it does give us a cushion. Still, we’re not in it for the financial gain. We’ve always wanted to give families a choice, and the voucher system makes that possible. We would have survived without it. It just fits in nicely with making Catholic education available for more people.” †


(Related story: Voucher system opens doors for more families to attend Catholic schools in Indiana)

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