April 16, 2021

In its 10th year, Indiana’s voucher program aids the dreams of Catholic school families

Jeff Crittendon, Braelynn Crittendon and Tiffany Underwood pose for a family photo at Holy Angels School in Indianapolis, where Braelynn is attending school with the help of Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program, more commonly known as the voucher program. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Jeff Crittendon, Braelynn Crittendon and Tiffany Underwood pose for a family photo at Holy Angels School in Indianapolis, where Braelynn is attending school with the help of Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program, more commonly known as the voucher program. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

There’s a certain blend of joy and emotion that fills parents when they know their child is in a place where he or she is happy and thriving.

Jeff Crittendon exudes that feeling when he describes the education that his 12-year-old daughter Braelynn is getting.

“I feel our child is receiving the love and attention that she needs to grow,” he says. “I feel the education she’s receiving now empowers her for what’s to come in her future.”

Crittendon’s description of Braelynn’s experience at Holy Angels School in Indianapolis becomes even more powerful when he compares it to the experience she had in a public school in the Indianapolis area.

“We wanted to find the right fit for her. We wanted a smaller feel, some place where we didn’t feel she was a number. Now there’s an excitement to go to school. It’s drastically improved her ability to learn in the classroom as well as outside it. From where we came from, this is leaps and bounds. On a scale of 1 to 10, this is a 10.”

Braelynn confirms her dad’s assessment with a bright smile.

“It’s fantastic,” she says. “The teachers are nice, and they help me more with my work. They go slow to help us understand it better.”

Crittendon says he wouldn’t have been able to find that right fit for his daughter without a voucher from the state of Indiana to help pay for her Catholic school education.

“It would have been a struggle, definitely,” he says. “The voucher has empowered us to put her in the right place.”

The voucher program is now in its 10th year in Indiana, giving parents across the state a choice in where they want their children to attend school.

(Related: Vouchers benefit Catholic school students | School choice myths and facts)

Having that choice is a reality that many parents of Catholic school students in the archdiocese appreciate. Of the 20,313 Catholic school students across central and southern Indiana this year, 8,333 of them attend their school with the help of a voucher. That’s 40% of the enrollment.

“We are grateful to live in a state where Indiana Choice Scholarships are available for students and their families,” says Michelle Radomsky, assistant superintendent of Catholic schools in the archdiocese.

“We believe that parents, as the primary educators of their children, know what is best for them—and that includes having the ability to choose the school that fits their children’s needs.”

A faith-filled path to living a dream

At 23, Htoo Thu is among the earliest group of students whose life was changed dramatically by the voucher system in Indiana.

In the spring of 2011, she arrived in the United States as a refugee from Burma (also known as Myanmar), looking forward to the freedom and opportunity that her new country offered her and her family. She found that opportunity when her family moved into St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, where she started at the parish school as an eighth-grade student in the 2011-12 school year.

“Although we attended a public school back in Burma, my siblings and I had always received Catholic education,” she says. “Every morning before school, my mom sent us to our church for a Bible class.

“My parents saw St. Mark as a place where we can continue the same kind of education, even more so with faith embedded in the classrooms. For me, it felt like home away from home, because faith was something I had in common with my classmates amongst the many differences.”

It was the beginning of a faith-filled, educational journey for her that has also included graduating from Roncalli High School in Indianapolis in 2016.

“Catholic education has provided me with rich opportunities to stay connected to the members of my community and also with God,” Htoo says. “In addition to studying theology in the classroom, we live out the mission of the Catholic faith through service.”

She plans to pursue a life of service to others. Since graduating from Marian University in Indianapolis in 2020, she has been working the past year as she prepares to continue her education at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis this fall.

“I hope to serve the medically underserved communities throughout the Indianapolis region as a doctor.”

She says the foundation of her dream was reinforced through her Catholic education—an education made possible because of the voucher system in Indiana.

“The voucher system was probably the number one factor that allowed my parents and the parents of my fellow Burmese students to be able to afford this education.”

That ability to impact a life is why Catholic schools across the archdiocese are “committed to serving any students and families who want to be in our schools,” Radomsky says.

“The Indiana Choice Scholarship program allows us to do that for those who may not be able to pay the full amount of tuition,” she says. “The educational future of each of our Catholic school students is our priority, as is preparing the entire student—mind, body and soul—for life.” †


Related story: Great-grandparents, vouchers help change the lives of three children

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