Since Indiana expanded the household income threshold for its Choice Scholarship (“voucher”) program in 2021, a great majority of families in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend can send their children to Catholic schools at very little out-of-pocket cost to them. This includes those with a family income up to 300% of that necessary to qualify for free and reduced lunch.
However, students must qualify for the Indiana Choice Scholarship via one of eight “tracks.” In the past, these tracks included having previously attended a public school for two consecutive semesters, being assessed with special needs, or having their local public school earn a failing grade in state assessments.
While these tracks are still open, the one most easily accessible to most families is receiving an SGO Award, through a Scholarship Granting Organization, such as the Scholarship Granting Organization of Northeast Indiana (SGONEI). These donor-funded scholarships can pay almost all costs for the first year, if necessary. In subsequent years, if the student’s family received at least a $500 SGO award, they have established a qualifying pathway to apply for a Choice Scholarship in any future year, as long as their income meets the Choice Income Guidelines.
Tammy Christianson, Business Manager for Mishawaka Catholic School, personally called every family with a student enrolled in the school last year to inform them about the change in income guidelines. Many of these families were making significant financial sacrifices because they considered a Catholic education a non-negotiable. Now not only those families, but many who previously felt a Catholic education was beyond their means, can also qualify by filling out an online application. The application includes the child’s name, the school of choice, and the parent or guardian’s financial information. To apply for an SGO for any of the 43 diocesan schools, interested parties should visit the Catholic Schools Office tab on the diocesan website. Those who meet the qualification guidelines receive a $500 minimum SGO award, but that is only the beginning.
Christianson sits down with every family that fills out the online application and designated Mishawaka Catholic as their school of choice. After assessing the needs through their FACTS Grant and Aid application, she can often tell them that the SGONEI award will fund almost the entire cost of the first year of their children’s Catholic education.
When parents hear this news, tears of joy are not uncommon. “It’s an unbelievable gift,” said Christianson, “to be able to send their children to an institution that promotes their Catholic values.”
This opportunity is dependent upon the generosity of donors, not on tax money. While some may still prefer to make gifts to their parish school or alma mater for building projects or special programs like music or science, those who want directly to help additional families afford a Catholic education can make contributions to the Scholarship Granting Organization of Northeast Indiana (www.sgonei.org). On that website, donors may make a tax-deductible contribution to any of the 43 diocesan schools’ SGO programs. One small donation can help unlock 12 years of a Catholic education for a child, providing each child with a Catholic formation that will last him or her a lifetime.
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