By John Shaughnessy
© The Criterion, Archdiocese of Indianapolis
Special to The Message
John Elcesser considers the recent expansion of Indiana’s school choice program as a game-changer—dramatically increasing the number of Hoosier families who will become eligible for vouchers that will help them choose where they want their children to attend school.
Regarding families who view a Catholic school as the best option for their children, Elcesser says the expansion of the program will help parents who believe they can’t afford Catholic education for their children, and it will also benefit parents who struggle and sacrifice to provide a Catholic education for their children.
“We believe there are probably quite a few families that may have wanted or even dreamed of getting a Catholic school education, but just probably didn’t think it was affordable. Now it probably is,” says Elcesser, the executive director of the Indiana Non-Public Education Association (INPEA), which represents the state’s more than 400 non-public schools, including Indiana’s 175 Catholic schools.
“There are also families who are continuing to struggle to make that tuition payment, working multiple jobs. And this is going to help them as well.”
As an example, Elcesser notes that under the new state guidelines, “a family of four can make up to $147,075 and still be eligible” for a voucher. As of July 1, all eligible students will receive a 90% voucher, which represents 90% of the state’s tuition support for a child if they attended a local public school.
Elcesser has shared these insights during informational sessions he has conducted throughout the state this summer, including sessions in all five Catholic dioceses in Indiana.
“We need to get the word out about the changes in the program,” he told a group of pastors and Catholic school principals during one of the sessions. And many schools throughout the Archdiocese of Indianapolis have begun to share the information with their families.
While Elcesser focused on the impact on Catholic schools during his presentations to pastors and Catholic school principals, his overall message focused on the importance of families getting to choose where they want their child to be educated.
“The State of Indiana believes, our organization believes, and our schools believe that every family—no matter where their ZIP code is or their financial circumstances—should be able to send their children to the school that’s the right fit for them,” Elcesser says.
“For us in the Catholic sector, it aligns with our Catholic social teaching. We believe in the preferential option for the poor. We also believe that parents are our children’s primary educators. They should be making the decision about what school is the best fit for them, whether that be traditionally public, whether that be charter, whether that be a non-public— faith-based or secular.”
Elcesser notes that Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has described the new education legislation as “transformational.”
“I do as well,” Elcesser says. “I think it’s not just transformational for private schools who participate in Choice, but I think it’s transformational for our friends in traditional public schools, in charter schools and in non-public schools. All of those sectors benefitted from legislation that was passed.”
The recent expansion of the Indiana’s school choice program comes 10 years after the program started in Indiana, which is considered at the forefront of the effort to allow families to choose where they want their children to attend school.
“There are 26 other states and the District of Columbia that have some sort of choice program,” Elcesser notes.
In the 10 years of Indiana’s program, about 273,000 children have benefitted from it, by getting a Choice Scholarship that can be applied to tuition at the non-public school of their choice, he says. And more than $1 billion has been awarded to families to make that choice a reality.
“It’s hard to believe the number of families whose lives have been significantly impacted by these programs,” Elcesser says.
Now, he adds, many more families will have that opportunity, thanks to the expansion of the program.
(To apply for a voucher, contact the participating nonpublic school of your choice. The deadline for voucher applications is Sept. 1. For more information, visit the Institute for Quality Education’s website, www.myschooloptions.org.)
This article originally appeared in The Criterion, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.