National School Choice Week kicked off Sunday with the goal of inspiring parents to look into options other than traditional public schools.
“School choice is about recognizing that there’s not one best school model of school. What’s necessary to recognize is that every student is going to have a different model that works for them,” said Jill Newell with the Association of American Educators.
Parent Jennifer Bliss chose to enroll her two children in Carpe Diem School on North Meridian Street. It’s a free public charter school that develops individualized learning plans and emphasizes technology.
“Many families here would have been in a traditional school and I’ve seen many students that come in with poor grades but here, because they’re put in right at their level and not allowed to fall through any cracks, they really can exceed any expectations they had before,” Bliss said.
“I’m a product of small town traditional public schools, so I’m a big believer in traditional public schools, but I’m also a big believer in parents having the option to choose what’s best for their kids,” said Principal Mark Forner.
“We have public schools, magnet schools, virtual schools, charter schools, tax credit scholarship programs, tax deductions…. We just have a lot of options that other states are still looking at getting,” said Marissa Lynch with School Choice Indiana.
One of those options is still stirring up controversy. The state’s voucher program provides funding to qualifying families so they can send their children to private schools they might not otherwise be able to afford. In its second year, the program has nearly 9,000 students using vouchers to attend schools other than the public school they were previously attending. When Indiana launched the voucher program last year it was the nation’s largest first-year voucher program.
“The rest of the country is looking at Indiana because we have so much in the way of school choice options and because our voucher program has wider parameters as far as how many families can participate in it,” said Lynch.
The state supreme court is currently reviewing a lawsuit against the voucher program. Teresa Meredith, a plaintiff in that lawsuit and vice president of the Indiana State Teacher’s Association, explained that the suit claims the voucher program is unconstitutional because it allows taxpayer dollars to go toward sending children to private schools with religious affiliations.
“If you choose to take your child somewhere else for religious education, that’s up to you. But we need to make sure our public school system is as good as it can possibly be to make sure every child has a fair shake,” Meredith said.
The ISTA also argues that the voucher program drains funding from public schools during a time when many districts are already facing budget challenges.
“With the voucher program the way it exists right now public schools suffer in that if a few students leave a school system, it might not be enough to close a building in a corporation, but the corporation still has the same overhead costs as if the students were there,” said Meredith.
The Indiana House of Representatives is considering a bill that would expand the voucher program by increasing funding and getting rid of the current requirement that students spend a full year in public school before applying for a voucher.