Misty Lang’s six children always have attended Lutheran schools.

That has been a big expense to Lang and her husband, Mike.

But when their oldest daughter, Sydney Stahl, entered Trinity Lutheran High School in Seymour this year, they were eligible to receive a state-funded voucher through the Indiana Department of Education’s Choice Scholarship Program.

That voucher paid $5,500 of the $6,600 cost for tuition. When Sydney’s siblings enter Trinity, they will receive a discounted rate, too.

“We knew it was going to happen. (Sydney) was going to attend there. We just didn’t know how we were going to pay for it,” Misty Lang said. “When we got the letter in the mail, we cried. God answered our prayers because there was a way for her to go.”

The Langs attended an informational meeting at Immanuel Lutheran School in November 2013 and learned about the vouchers, which allow a student to take state money — normally distributed only to public schools on a per-pupil basis — to a private school of his or her choice.

They filled out forms — verifying income and household size — and turned them in. They received a letter in January informing them that Sydney was accepted.

“It has been a blessing because we have a big family,” Misty Lang said. “They grew up in Lutheran and private schools, and we didn’t want that to stop. We want our kids to continue the Lutheran way, learning about their faith and about God. We didn’t want anything to stop that.”

Trinity began accepting vouchers in the 2013-14 school year. It went from eight students using them that year to 59 this school year.

Statewide, the number of students using vouchers to attend private schools jumped by more than

47 percent this year, according to preliminary numbers confirmed by state education officials.

The number of elementary, middle and high school students using vouchers last year was 19,809, and that’s expected to be just shy of 30,000 this year, according to Indiana Department of Education spokesman Daniel Altman.

‘Benefit to families’

In Jackson County, the only schools accepting vouchers are Trinity, St. Ambrose Catholic School and Seymour Christian Academy.

Trinity Principal Dan Sievert said his school got involved after two years

of evaluating the program’s growth in other private schools.

“The board evaluated the pros and cons, and although the program added additional reporting and paperwork, the financial benefit to families made it an easy decision,” Sievert said.

Indiana passed its school voucher law in 2011, and 3,919 students received vouchers for the 2011-12 school year.

Legislation proposed during the 2013 session made siblings of current participants eligible for vouchers, tweaking a rule that required students to first attend a public school to receive state money for a private school.

“Previously, almost all voucher students had to spend at least two semesters at a public school to qualify,” Sievert said. “Now, if a student receives a scholarship from a certified scholarship-granting organization in any previous year, the student would qualify for a voucher to be used at a choice school.”

This year, Sievert said, Trinity received a large number of students from the Lutheran grade schools who received a scholarship from a qualified organization during their eighth-grade year. Lutheran and Catholic schools in Indiana both have specific scholarship granting organizations that grant these scholarships.

‘Ability to choose’

At St. Ambrose, this is the fourth year of accepting vouchers. Principal Michelle Neibert-Levine said the school has gone from six students using vouchers in 2011-12 to 55 this school year. She said the numbers have grown because of public awareness.

“When the law passed in July 2011, there was not much time before school started for parents to be informed of the law,” she said. “The growth the past couple of years could be attributed to siblings that can now receive a choice scholarship without having attended a public school and the SGO law change that permits students who have received an SGO to receive a voucher without having attended a public school.”

Neibert-Levine said students using vouchers may get part or all of their tuition costs covered. But they still are required to pay the school registration fee.

Seymour Christian Academy is in its second year of accepting vouchers, going from about 30 students in 2013-14 to nearly 60 this year.

Principal Aaron Arrowood said it has been a good program for the school.

“Accepting vouchers does not subject SCA to invasive curriculum modifications or policy changes by the state or federal DOE,” he said. “We offer an education that many families feel is essential for their children, and now, they have the ability to choose SCA without an excessive financial burden.”

Having Indiana Department of Education oversight is a good thing, he added.

“It offers an additional set of checks and balances to our program, which was already accountable to each tuition-paying family,” Arrowood said. “Accountability only makes us better.”

‘Hesitant to move’

Three other Jackson County parochial schools — St. John’s Lutheran School at Sauers, Lutheran Central School in Brownstown and Immanuel Lutheran School in Seymour — are not using vouchers.

However, St. John’s Principal Jon Baumgartel said the school plans to enroll in the program when the application window opens in the spring.

Lutheran Central Principal Jon Sprengel said the school board has discussed the voucher program and may revisit it again in the future.

“We are hesitant to move in that direction because of uncertainty of the program,” Sprengel said. “It certainly has taken a strong foothold within the state of Indiana, but it could certainly change quickly, as well. Our board has decided to look at other funding strategies that we could control as a school that would be a means to provide financial assistance to those who need it.”

Sievert said he expects the number to level out at Trinity since most if not all families who qualify have entered the program.

Neibert-Levine said the number probably will continue to grow at St. Ambrose, but not as much as she has seen in the past couple of years.

“We have students now graduating; and in a couple of cases, families have moved out of state,” she said.

Arrowood sees the number increasing at his school as more families learn they have a choice in where their child attends school.

“Vouchers enable families in our community who could not afford private education to exercise the power of school choice,” he said. “In our second year accepting vouchers, several students have enrolled who would not have been able to choose SCA otherwise.”

‘Field is effectively leveled’

Now that the number of students using vouchers

is close to 30,000, that’s pushing Indiana’s program to the largest in the nation and fastest-growing in

U.S. history.

Local private school leaders see good in

the program.

“The voucher program removes the financial barrier for many families that desire a Christian education for their son or daughter, and we have had families take advantage of this help,” Sievert said.

“It provides a nonpublic school choice for families that would like this option but could not afford it,” Neibert-Levine said. “The school has benefited by becoming more diverse.”

Arrowood pointed to several benefits.

“The socioeconomic field is effectively leveled in education. Now, every Hoosier has access to school choice. Freedom is good,” he said.

“Some might suggest that by opening the door to people in the lower income strata, the advantage of private education will be lost,” he said. “While we denounce those claims as bigoted, we would also point out that students still have to obey strict academic and behavioral guidelines to remain enrolled at SCA. We are convinced that given a fair shake, anyone who applies themselves can accomplish great things.”

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”By the numbers” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Choice Scholarship Program usage in Jackson County


St. Ambrose Catholic;6;9;27;55

Trinity Lutheran High;—;—;8;59

Seymour Christian Academy;—;—;30*;60*


[sc:pullout-text-end][sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”By the numbers” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Choice Scholarship Program usage in Indiana





*Number of children who applied for vouchers; final number will be released in January.

[sc:pullout-text-end][sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Pull Quote” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

“Vouchers enable families in our community who could not afford private education to exercise the power of school choice.”

Seymour Christian Academy Principal Aaron Arrowood, on state vouchers

[sc:pullout-text-end][sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”At a glance” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

The value of the Choice Scholarship is the lesser of three amounts:

1) Tuition and fees charged to the student at the eligible school;

2) $4,800 for Grades 1 through 8; or

3) An amount based off the per-student state funding for the student’s school corporation of residence, determined as follows:

90 percent of the funding formula amount if household income is up to 100 percent of reduced lunch eligibility

50 percent of formula amount if household income is up to 150 percent of reduced lunch eligibility

50 percent of formula amount if household income is up to 200 percent of reduced lunch eligibility if the student is eligible under the Continuing Choice Scholarship Student or Special Education Pathway



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