By Tim Johnson
FORT WAYNE — Chanting “School Choice” is a “good choice,” supporters, including Catholic school representatives, joined forces to share success stories and held a rally in Fort Wayne on Jan. 27. The rally, which drew hundreds of students, teachers and parents from Catholic, Lutheran and other private schools from northeast Indiana to the International Ballroom at Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne, was timed last week to coincide with National School Choice Week, National Catholic Schools Week and National Lutheran Schools Week.
The school choice movement is actually a nationwide movement “that reflects basic American freedoms — a parent’s choice to determine what’s best for his or her child,” said Mark Muehl, the master of ceremonies for the event who is an Indiana Non-Public Education Association board member, Allen County Non-Public School Association board member and director of The Lutheran Schools Partnership. In Indiana, he noted, school choice comes in the form of scholarship tax credits and choice scholarships.
“Indiana is celebrating the fastest (growing) choice scholarship program in the nation,” Muehl said. But there are many “naysayers” on school choice in the state of Indiana.
“This is an opportunity for us to celebrate our opportunity to choose our school and support one another,” Muehl said of the rally.
The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, as well as St. Charles Borromeo School, were two of the rally’s many sponsors. The Bishop Luers Show Choir sang the “National Anthem” at the rally.
Secretary of the Office of Catholic Education Carl Loesch, one of the rally speakers, spoke of the value of school choice.
“Everyday, parents make choices that affect who their children will become,” Loesch said. “Perhaps the most important choice that a parent can make is what type of education they want for their child — public, nonpublic, charter, religious. Education is the furrow of great price. Education is the treasure. Education affects a lifetime.”
“Each educational choice makes a difference,” Loesch said. He related how his great grandfather could not read. His grandmother attended a small country school through eighth grade. Loesch’s grandparents chose to send his father to a country school in rural southern Allen County. His father left the farm to go to college. His father’s choice to attend college changed Loesch’s life and the lives of his siblings.
Loesch and his siblings attended and received a great education through Catholic schools. He said, “All of us are productive citizens serving our communities in business, science, medicine, public service. And who knew that the great-grandchild of a man who couldn’t sign his name could serve as the Secretary of Education.”
“Education is indeed a great treasure and each choice makes a great difference,” Loesch noted. “Education changes lives for generations.”
Loesch told the story when he was serving as a principal at Marian High School in Mishawaka. A father brought his two daughters to the Catholic high school to be enrolled. When the eldest of the daughters saw the cost of tuition per student, she offered to attend public school so her sister could attend Catholic school. The school accepted both girls. At that time, choice legislation was being introduced. Thanks to choice scholarships and generous donors, the eldest girl graduated from Marian last year and is now in college studying to be a bilingual teacher.
“That choice of our community to welcome that girl to our school will effect not only her, but all of her future students,” Loesch noted.
“Let all of us continue to say ‘yes’ to school choice, ‘yes’ to educational opportunities, ‘yes’ to allowing parents with limited resources the same choices that all of us would love to have for our children. And in doing so, we say ‘yes’ to the future of our community.”
Celine Fernandes, a junior at Bishop Luers High School, the oldest of four girls — two who attend St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and the other at Bishop Luers, told rally participants she likes that Luers offers her the ability to practice and grow in her faith, as well as receive an “amazing” education and make friends along the way.
Fernandes quoted her mom who says, “Opportunities are not lost. They are taken by someone else who knew to take them.”
And the school choice program offers Fernandes that opportunity. “It provided me and my sisters to go to incredible schools and to grow in our faith.”
“My parents are very grateful as well,” she said. “They know we will get the preparation we need in college and in life. I believe that the program should continue to allow other children … to have the best education and faith possible. It will allow them and so many others to have the preparation they need.”
Fernandes was joined by other students and parents whose children attend Catholic or non-public schools who spoke in support of the school choice program.
Part of the rally was a call for action, asking parents to write to their Indiana legislators to encourage them to support the school choice program to continue to make the program accessible and successful. For more information, link to the Institute for Quality Education at www.i4qed.org or the Indiana Non-Public Education Association at http://inpea.org.
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