By Megan Erbacher
The Message assistant editor
Megan Pratt was worried about sending her son, Michael, to a public school because she was afraid he would get “lost in the crowd.” Then, in 2021, she read an article about Indiana's Choice Scholarship Program allowing more families the opportunity to qualify for it.
Now, after an expansion that took effect July 1, nearly all Indiana families qualify for Indiana's Choice Scholarship Program, commonly known as the voucher program. School-choice eligibility now extends to 97 percent of Hoosier families, after the state legislature’s passage of near-universal school choice as part of the current two-year budget.
School choice was first introduced in 2011, when then-Gov. Mitch Daniels signed Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program into law. The program allows parents and guardians to choose the school they believe is best for their kids.
Without the Choice Scholarship Program, Pratt isn’t sure if her children would have the opportunity to attend Catholic school.
Megan and Matt Pratt have three kids: Michael, 13, an eighth-grader at Annunciation School Holy Spirit Campus in Evansville; Lillyn, 10, a fifth grader at Good Shepherd School in Evansville and Adam, almost 2-years-old, will attend Good Shepherd.
The Pratt’s chose to apply for the voucher program to help with tuition costs. They couldn’t afford paying for both private school and private tutoring, as well as give their kids a lifestyle that included travel, sports, therapies, funding their 529 College Savings Plans and having a third child.
“It was truly an answered prayer,” Pratt said. “I was so worried about Michael at the time, I was beside myself looking for alternatives to his education. This gives him the small class size and near private tutoring he needs to grow his education. He's such a smart teenager, and I want him to have every advantage.”
John Elcesser, executive director of the Indiana Non-Public Education Association, called the expansion a “pivotal moment for families in Indiana.”
Beginning in the 2023-24 school year, any child from a family of four that earns up to $222,000 annually will be able to receive a Choice Scholarship to attend a school of their family’s choosing.
The Pratt’s are parishioners of St John the Evangelist Parish in Daylight. Megan attended Catholic schools from kindergarten through eighth grade, while her husband attended a small public school. When discussing where they planned to send their children, they had a debate about Catholic versus public schools.
“We tried public (schools) first, and, honestly, I don't feel it was effective enough,” she said. “It was too large and too complex to navigate in terms of getting our children's voices heard.
“Michael and Lillyn both have had truly dedicated teachers. They have both grown so much in the last two school years from the typical state requirements to the ethics and values instilled in a child from growing up in a Catholic school environment. We look forward to seeing what they can achieve.”
Adriana Soto said sending her children to a Catholic school was always her wish and her husband’s, Alan Estrella-Leal. They believe it to be the best option for their kids.
“We wanted our kids to be in a Catholic school with high quality education and values, with the opportunity to be treated as individuals,” she said.
Adriana and Alan have four kids: Alan Estrella-Soto, 18, a freshman at the University of Alabama; Ailyn Estrella-Soto, 17, a senior at Signature School; and their two younger kids attend St. Benedict Cathedral School in Evansville: Ariadna Estrella-Soto, almost 7, a second grader; and Ander Estrella-Soto, 5, a kindergartener.
The family are parishioners of St. Benedict Cathedral.
“If we hadn't had the voucher program, we couldn't afford a Catholic school for our kiddos,” Adriana said. “Our first child who benefited by the program was in kindergarten, and she was struggling with reading. St. Ben's gave her and us the attention and the resources to help her in her learning process to achieve her goals.”
Adriana hopes more parents get involved so they can also benefit from the School Choice program.
“I am grateful for this program, because I like St. Benedict Cathedral's education standards, values, environment, enrichment programs, and I am happy to have the opportunity to choose this school for my kids instead of a public school.”