By Ann Carey
SOUTH BEND — Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels visited Our Lady of Hungary School in South Bend on Nov. 16 to see firsthand how the new state voucher program is being implemented, his first such visit since the vouchers went into effect this school year.
“Our Lady of Hungary happens to have the most voucher students in the South Bend area, so it seemed like a good choice, and it was,” Daniels told a hallway press conference after visiting five classrooms at the school.
Like many inner-city Catholic schools, Our Lady has been struggling with enrollment numbers, and had only 138 students last year. This year, the enrollment is 204, with 66 of those new students attending with the help of state vouchers.
Daniels said he “had a ball” visiting students and talking with them about their studies and their plans for the future. He related that Father Kevin Bauman, Our Lady pastor, and Principal Melissa Jay and her staff told him about the difference the voucher program is making in the lives of the children and how grateful the parents are because they believe the vouchers have enabled their children to have a better chance in life.
“That’s what we wanted from this program,” Daniels said.
A reporter asked Daniels about the charge that public schools are “the biggest losers” in the voucher program because they have lost students, and thus funds.
“I reject the word ‘losers,’” Daniels said. “Losing in education is not about money for adults. Losing is when kids don’t do well.”
The governor pointed out that per-pupil costs at Our Lady of Hungary are much lower than public schools, yet it has better test scores, and the children are getting a better education.
“So winning in education is about the children,” Daniels continued. “And frankly, I believe public education will win with the broadening of options that are out there: Already we’re seeing public schools shaping up, working, saying ‘Listen, we can successfully compete for kids.’”
Daniels said it would be fine with him if Indiana never had a large voucher program as long as public schools do a job that parents feel good about. He also observed that per-pupil dollars in the public schools actually go up because of the voucher program, for only 50 or 90 percent of per-pupil cost goes to the private school with the student (depending on family income). The rest of the funds stay in the public system.
When a reporter asked why he thought parental choice in schools was important, Daniels said: “It’s a matter of social justice.”
If people don’t understand that, he continued, they should come to a neighborhood of low-income families like that surrounding Our Lady of Hungary. Until the voucher program arrived, he explained, most people in that neighborhood did not have the choice of their wealthier counterparts to move to a better school district or pay tuition to a private school. The voucher program gives lower-income families the same freedom to do what they think is best for their children, he said.
“All we did in this program is say that every parent, just because you don’t have a lot of money, you can still have the same freedom to do what you think is best for your child, and by the way we trust you to decide what the best school is,” Daniels said.
Our Lady of Hungary and its surrounding neighborhood are a “classic example” of the people the voucher program was designed to help, he added.
“The young people I just saw here today, preschool through eighth grade, I’m convinced are in a great place for them, and we have to win this battle for the future one child at a time,” Daniels said.
Jeanetta White, the mother of four of those children, was on hand to see the governor. She told Today’s Catholic that she was not happy with her children’s public school and was looking for an alternative. White, who is a graduate of Our Lady herself, said the vouchers enabled her to enroll her children, and they are happy and thriving.
Father Bauman said that the entire parish is experiencing a steady, consistent growth, as families are moving back into the neighborhood, attracted by the large homes. Mass attendance has increased steadily, and he has added an additional Spanish Mass, celebrating two Spanish and two English Masses on Sundays. Three-fourths of the children with vouchers are actually Our Lady parishioners.
Father Bauman said that the children and staff were “very, very excited” that Gov. Daniels chose their school for his first voucher school visit in the state.
“It means a great deal to us because we are a depressed area here,” he observed. “Wages are not high, and a lot of people are suffering. So to have him come here and to be witness, just to share with us that gift of presence means so much.”
Vouchers increase family involvement, enrollment at Catholic schools
By Tim Johnson
FORT WAYNE — Blending new students and their parents into the Catholic schools of Fort Wayne has become a welcomed benefit of the new Indiana School Choice program. Two principals are especially pleased with the results they have witnessed this school year.
Chuck Grimm, principal of St. Therese School in Fort Wayne, told Today’s Catholic, “The voucher program has really helped our school this year in the area of enrollment. We welcomed into our school community 32 new students who are now able to grow closer to God and obtain a Catholic education. “
Grimm said, “Without the voucher program, the parents of these children would not be able to afford a Catholic education for their children, which is something that they have desired for a long time.”
Grimm said the majority of the new families are Catholic but have never been able to enroll their children in Catholic schools.
He said now the parents have the opportunity to choose any of the Catholic schools within the diocese with the help of the voucher program.
“The addition of these new children has also helped with the diversity in our school,” Grimm said. “Our school community now has a better opportunity to learn about different cultures, while the new children have an opportunity to learn about our culture.”
Grimm said he feels blessed this year at St. Therese, “to have gained some really great students, in addition to our veteran students. They have fit in well. It’s just like they have been attending here their entire school career.”
“I am really proud of the way in which those students who have been attending here for many years have welcomed the new students into the fold,” Grimm said.
“I’m also proud of our parents for making the new families feel welcomed and at home,” he added. “Many of the new parents have become very involved in school-related activities along side our veteran parents by volunteering their time, talent and treasure.”
The teachers too have welcomed the new students at St. Therese.
“I am also proud of the way my faculty and staff have reacted to having more students in their classrooms,” Grimm said. “It is exciting for them too, to be able to create new lessons and have more students engaged in classroom activities.”
At Bishop Luers High School, 58 new students and families have taken advantage of the vouchers.
“It is a joy for Bishop Luers High School to be able to reach more young people through the school voucher program,” Principal Mary Keefer said.
“Our teachers and staff truly believe that our school is a good place for young people to learn, to grow, to mature and to meet Jesus Christ,” she said.
“Acclimation to Bishop Luers has gone smoothly,” Keefer said. “These new students are experiencing success in the classroom. I think it is safe to say that they have caught Luers Spirit!”
Back at St. Therese School, Grimm concurred with Keefer.
“It’s exciting to have more children in our building, to see more smiles and feel their excitement about what they are learning each day,” Grimm said. “What’s even better is that we, the educators, have the opportunity not only to help them learn academically, but we have the great responsibility to help them grow spiritually all while helping them to become faithful, productive and responsible citizens.”
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