Private school vouchers jump


The number of low-income families in Seymour using state-funded scholarships to send their children to private schools jumped significantly this year.

A total of 261 students in Jackson County received the vouchers, according to an annual report on the Choice Scholarship Program prepared by the Indiana Department of Education Office of School Finance.

That’s an increase of 108 students from 2014-15.

Of the 261 students, 243 would have attended Seymour Community School Corp., equaling a loss of $624,479.77 in state support. The other 18 listed Brownstown Central School Corp. as their school district of legal settlement for a loss of $58,985.29.

Medora Community School Corp. does not have any students receiving Choice Scholarships, and Crothersville Community School Corp. has fewer than 10 and therefore doesn’t have to report the exact number.

Steve Nauman, business manager for Seymour Community School Corp., monitors enrollment trends closely but isn’t too worried about the voucher program at this time, he said.

“For many years, students have gone to private schools, so we never get 100 percent of the students we could have attending our schools,” he said.

But any time a student transfers to another school, their “home” district loses tuition support for that student, Nauman said.

“If those students were here, we would receive more than $1 million more in state support,” he said. “But it could also cause us to be overcrowded in one or more buildings, so there are pros and cons.”

Currently, Seymour is curbing the loss by experiencing growth in the number of new students moving into the district and allowing transfer students from other public school districts.

“I think that our growth helps to offset some of that loss, but it is still a loss,” he said. “I don’t think it is a major problem at this point, but it could be someday.”

The school accepting the most students on Choice Scholarships in the county is Immanuel Lutheran School in Seymour with 88. This was the first year for Immanuel to accept the state-funded vouchers, which equaled $117,015.70.

Other schools with Choice Scholarship students are St. Ambrose Catholic School in Seymour with 62, Seymour Christian Academy with 79, Trinity Lutheran High School in Seymour with 56 and for the first time, St. John’s Lutheran School at Sauers with 10 students.

The Choice Scholarship program began in 2011 and was limited to 7,500 students statewide that school year. The number increased to 15,000 students in 2012.

In 2013, the cap on the number of students receiving vouchers was removed completely, allowing any family meeting income and eligibility requirements to participate.

Vouchers also are available to families with students in need of special education services, siblings of students already using vouchers and students who are attending failing schools.

Brownstown Central School Corp. did not experience any loss of students as a result of the voucher program until 2013-14, at which time 10 students were granted scholarships. That increased to 22 the following year but dropped to 18 this year.

In the first year of the scholarship program, 2011-12, Seymour lost 10 students who decided to attend a private school on a Choice Scholarship. The following year, the number increased to 18, then to 47 in 2013-14 and 131 in 2014-15. The number now stands at 243.

The scholarship program gives families unable to afford private tuition a choice of where they send their children to school.

St. Ambrose was one of the first private schools to accept the vouchers, with less than 10 new students added in the first and second year of the program. That jumped to 27 in 2013-14, 55 in 2014-15 and 62 students for this school year for a total of $205,986.52 in state support.

To accept students on vouchers, private schools must be fully accredited by the Indiana Department of Education, participate in all state assessments, including ISTEP+ and I-Read 3, the accountability grading system and student growth model and be in session a minimum of 180 days per year.

“We were already meeting or exceeding requirements for participation in the voucher program before its inception,” St. Ambrose Principal Michelle Neibert-Levine said.

Neibert-Levine favors vouchers because the program gives parents more control of their children’s education, despite financial barriers.

“Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program allows Hoosier parents to make an independent choice to find the best school that meets their child’s unique learning needs,” she said.

There’s nothing wrong with public schools, she added, but there are some qualities of parochial schools that are attractive to students and their families.

“St. Ambrose offers smaller class sizes, more personalized, one-on-one attention from teachers in a family-like atmosphere,” she said. “We are open to all students, regardless of religious affiliation, race or nationality, and we feel we have much to offer the community.”

Seymour Christian Academy also has experienced growth from the program, adding 31 students in 2013-14, the first time it was eligible to participate, 67 the second year and 79 this year for a total of $231,548.03 in state funding for 2015-16.

Trinity Lutheran High School saw a big increase last school year in the number of Choice Scholarship students enrolled, going from 10 students in 2013-14 to 59. This year, that number fell to 56 students, which equals $234,984.84 in state support.

Seymour Christian Academy 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.”

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

Number of vouchers per year


Brownstown Central;0;0;10;22;18


Medora has never had a student receive an Indiana Choice Scholarship, and Crothersville has never had a reportable number of students (more than 10) receive a scholarship.


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