January 25, 2013

Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Double blessing: Voucher program, donors help more students attend Catholic schools

Esmeralda Gomez and her daughter, Aylee, feel fortunate that the Indiana school voucher program and the generosity of donors in the archdiocese have made it possible for the girl to attend St. Philip Neri School in Indianapolis. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Esmeralda Gomez and her daughter, Aylee, feel fortunate that the Indiana school voucher program and the generosity of donors in the archdiocese have made it possible for the girl to attend St. Philip Neri School in Indianapolis. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

A double blessing has helped more students attend Catholic schools in the archdiocese.

The combination of the Indiana school voucher program and generous donors in the archdiocese have helped to make it possible for 3,201 students from families in need to attend an archdiocesan Catholic school during the 2012-13 academic year.

“The Tax Credit Scholarships and the Indiana school vouchers have had a huge impact on our schools, probably more than any other single thing I can remember in my 27 years here, certainly economically and in terms of diversity,” said G. Joseph Peters, associate executive director of the archdiocese’s Office of Catholic education.

The voucher program has had a major impact on Catholic schools that serve low income families, Peters noted. It has also benefited middle-class families who have multiple children.

“This has allowed a large number of families, many of them Catholic, to be able to choose Catholic education for their children for the first time,” Peters said. “It has also allowed a number of our Hispanic families to choose Catholic education, inviting those families into our schools.”

Esmeralda Gomez and her daughter, Aylee, have benefited from the double blessing. Aylee is a second-grade student at St. Philip Neri School in Indianapolis.

“I’m a single mother,” says Gomez, a member of the parish. “I never knew I was going to have the opportunity to be involved in it. When they told me I qualified, it was great, great news for us. It’s a great school. We just love the principal and the teachers. They treat the children with love.”

The number of students who have benefited from the state voucher program this year has tripled from the 2011-12 school year. During that first year of vouchers in Indiana, 1,058 students attended Catholic schools through the program.

Besides offering children from families in need the opportunity to attend a Catholic school, the Educational CHOICE Charitable Trust program offers potential donors the opportunity to fulfill those dreams.

State-funded vouchers cover the tuition and fees at accredited private schools in Indiana up to a maximum of $4,500 a year in grades 1 to 8—and even more during high school.

“The goal of the archdiocese is to have Catholic schools identify each and every eligible potential kindergarten or first-grade student and offer the opportunity for a CHOICE Tax Credit Scholarship so that the student may be eligible for an Indiana state school voucher,” Peters said.

“Eligibility can only be established during the first year of enrollment in the Catholic school, and could qualify a student for a state voucher of $4,500 or more annually for the next 12 years—a potential $54,000 to $64,000.”

Indiana Tax Credit Scholarships were introduced as part of an overall Indiana education reform package, Peters said.

“This allows a donor to fund scholarships for students to attend a Catholic school of the family’s choice,” Peters said. “Most of these scholarships are given to entry-level students—kindergarten and first grade. Under the law, this allows them to become eligible for an Indiana school voucher after two semesters on a scholarship.”

Contributing to the tax credit scholarships also provides a great tax reward for donors, Peters says. Donors can get credit for up to 50 percent of the donation, up to the amount of their state tax liability, plus a federal tax deduction.

“The Tax Credit Scholarships have been extremely popular with donors who have given nearly $1 million in our archdiocese alone,” Peters noted.

Two major efforts by the archdiocese have contributed to the $950,000 in donations to the archdiocese’s approved Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO).

The main effort was the 17th annual Celebrating Catholic School Values: Scholarship and Career Achievement Awards event on Oct. 30. More than 600 people attended the event at the Crowne Plaza Grand Hall at Union Station in Indianapolis.

The archdiocese also held 11 regional breakfast meetings with potential individual and business donors for the scholarship program.

“We are extremely gratified with the unprecedented response to our Celebrating Catholic School Values event,” Peters said. “Of the $950,000 in donations, at least $350,000 was raised as a result of the breakfast events. The rest was raised by schools and the event committee.”

Major donors will also be invited to a dinner later this year with Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin.

“We will also make efforts in the spring to allow more families to obtain a Catholic education for their children,” Peters said.

(For more information about the state voucher program, Peters recommended communicating with the principal of the nearest Catholic school or checking the website, www.choicetrust.org. For more information about the Tax Credit Scholarships program, contact indyocs@archindy.org.)

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