December 2, 2014 // Local

A new way to support Catholic Schools: SGOs

By Jodi Magallanes

Charitable giving is a year-round practice. But as the window of tax-deductible giving draws to a close for 2014, it may once again be on the minds of both individuals and corporations.

“There are many ways in which the Church invites us to give: opportunities such as one’s parish offertory, the Bishop’s Appeal, Pentecost collection and parish capital campaigns,” noted Harry Verhiley, director of the Office of Development for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. “These are all necessary giving opportunities, and our act of giving reflects the deeper work of the Holy Spirit within us.”

One relatively new vehicle through which one’s giving does local, immediate and direct good is called a scholarship granting organization or SGO.

The Indiana Department of Education passed a bill approving the formation of SGOs in 2011, the same year that it established the Indiana Choice Scholarship program — known as the “voucher” program. SGOs provide scholarship funds to families to further help them afford the private or parochial school of their choice.

Funding for SGO scholarships comes from corporations and business owners, as well as private donations, and rewards donors with a 50 percent state tax credit on top of the usual state and federal charitable tax deductions.

During the 2013-14 school year, which was the first that SGO scholarships were given to students at all grade levels in the diocese, 1,900 students received one. The scholarships are awarded in a minimum amount of $500 and are based on income and family size.

These awards allowed many of the approximately 5,600 children in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend to qualify for vouchers that enabled them to pursue a Catholic education this school year.

The Scholarship Granting Organization of Northeast Indiana exclusively serves Catholic schools in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Donations to SGONEI can be restricted to a particular school, or unrestricted — to be used in the schools with the greatest needs. Individual schools do their best to raise funds for their own students, and those funds are channeled through the SGONEI office and returned to the same school, said Jeffrey Boetticher, director of Diocesan Tuition Assistance for the Catholic Schools Office. Donations given independently of any particular school serve to supplement the individual efforts of all the schools.

As development director at Saint Joseph High School for 10 years, Boetticher headed up the capital campaign to build the new high school. The doors of the new Saint Joseph High School opened in 2012, and in August he joined the Catholic Schools staff to manage the SGONEI and the large number of Indiana School Choice vouchers being utilized by students to attend schools in the diocese. Both programs have grown tremendously over the past few years, and parishioners across the diocese continue to support Catholic school students in ways that impress Boetticher on a daily basis.

“Thanks to programs like these and the generosity of so many people, our schools are now more affordable than they’ve ever been for low and middle-income families,” he said. “That’s so important to us — we want to provide a great education and have it be as affordable as possible.”

The programs are also the reason why he is encouraging proponents of Catholic education to contact their representatives about increasing the SGO tax credit cap. The combined amount of donations to the five Indiana SGO organizations threatens to meet an imposed $7.5 million tax credit limit. Once that cap is reached donations to SGOs can still be accepted, but donors do not receive the state tax benefits. A proposal to increase the tax-credit cap will be debated by lawmakers in the spring.

“A gift to the SGO offers a tax benefit, which is a good thing for the donor,” acknowledged Verhiley. “However, as Christian stewards, we must always be careful not to simply — give to get. The noteworthy point of an SGO gift is that students will receive Catholic education and be formed in the faith.”

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