Joshua Schipper
Video/Digital Content/Graphic Design Producer
March 21, 2023 // Diocese

‘School Choice for All’ Applauded

Joshua Schipper
Video/Digital Content/Graphic Design Producer

Principals and school choice advocates from in and around Fort Wayne gathered at Bishop Dwenger High School on Thursday, March 16, for one of a series of “Share the Vision: School Choice for All” events to learn about and push for pending school choice legislation being considered by the Indiana General Assembly.

Throughout the rally, attendees heard from education professionals, students, and parents not only about the aspects of different legal proposals, but also families’ experiences with school choice.

After a student led the singing of the National Anthem, and a prayer from Dr. Joe Brettnacher, Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, John Elcesser, Director of the Indiana Non-Public Education Association, unpacked legislation and proposals that support school choice, and gave a positive outlook of the year ahead.

Photos by Joshua Schipper
John Elcesser, Director of the Indiana Non-Public Education Association, breaks down legislation and proposals supporting school choice at the Share the Vision event.

“We have the potential for this legislative session to be another historic legislative session. 2021 was the last budget, and it was truly historic in terms of the advances to school choice. We have that same opportunity in 2023, but it’s going to take all of us to get there.”

He continued, “This year, more than 53,000 kids are participating in the Choice Scholarship Program and are benefiting from that Choice Scholarship Program. And one thing that you’ll hear me say is that messaging is really important. When we talk about choice, we don’t talk about schools getting public funds. We talk about families getting the support and public funds to choose the private school of their choice.

“The Choice Scholarship Program was deemed constitutional by our state Supreme Court unanimously because they said that schools were indirect beneficiaries, and that the parents are the direct beneficiaries of those programs. Since its inception in 2011 — and this doesn’t even include this year — $1.5 billion has gone to families to choose the private school of their choice.”

Elcesser said that, earlier that day, he testified about the budget at the statehouse, where he said that he believes his tax dollars should support public schools as well as private schools.

Audience members applaud during a “Share the Vision: School Choice for All” event on Thursday, March 16, at Bishop Dwenger High School in Fort Wayne.

“We need strong public schools. If you look at the total budget, less than 3 percent of my tax dollars are supporting the Choice Program, even with the proposed expansions.”

Speaking about several of the proposals in the legislature, he said that the “House is proposing an increase in the financial eligibility to 400 percent of free and reduced lunch. If you look at the numbers, that comes out to a family of four with $220,000. Around the country, one of the things that’s happening in states around us is they’re going to what’s called ‘universal choice.’ That means everybody can take their percentage of tax dollars in a backpack, and they can take it to a traditional public, they can take it to a charter, or they can take it to a non-public school. We’re not quite there, but if we get $220,000 for a family of four, we’re going to be very, very close.”

After Elcesser spoke, several students and their parents took turns sharing their experiences under Indiana’s current school choice legislation, how it benefited their families, and the importance of attending private schools.

One student from Bishop Luers High School said that she has been a beneficiary of school choice legislation since 5th grade, when her parents discovered the program. This allowed her to switch from a public to a private school.

“Now, like any student, I was nervous to switch from my school to a new school after attending there for so long,” she said. “I was afraid to leave behind my friends — to leave a place where I felt comfortable and knew where I fit in. I do believe that if it weren’t for my parents having me switch schools, I would not be the person nor in the place that I am today.”

She continued, “However, I cannot just thank my parents for this amazing opportunity because, if it were not for school choice, my parents and I would not have been able to make it all four years and stay financially stable. The Indiana School Choice Program has helped give me this chance to better myself. It gave my parents the freedom of not having to stress about financial strain. Being able to switch to my faith-based school was one of the best things God could have ever let happen to me and my family. Not only did it allow me to become stronger in my faith, but it also helped me strive to become the smartest and best parts of myself.”

Finishing, she said, “I strongly believe that it is school choice that has helped many students like me, and it’s still helping to give families this opportunity to choose the strong education that private schools provide.”

A 6th-grader at Redeemer Classical School, a Lutheran institution, said that the small class sizes have helped him foster close friendships.

“I daily interact with older and younger students,” he said, “giving me opportunities to learn from some and help others. This school community has been a positive influence in my life. I want other kids to be able to go to the school of their parents’ choice. I encourage all of you to support legislation that strengthens school choice for fellow Hoosier families.”

After the families spoke, Cesar Roman, Director of Community Engagement at the Institute for Quality Education, said that “parents should be empowered in the conversation of education. And we should be right along partnering with our schools, with our educators, with our administrators, because our voice matters.

“Who knows our baby most? Us. Parents … we should advocate for our children, we should empower them in the conversation, we should empower them to use this tool of education so they can realize their dreams. Because ultimately, that’s what we all want.”

Following the conclusion of the speakers, organizers encouraged each of the participants in the rally to call, email, and write their legislators at one of several available engagement booths so that they could turn their newfound knowledge of school choice into active advocacy. 

To build additional public support for the legislation, a rally was held in South Bend this week, and more rallies are planned for across the state. The additional “Share the Vision: School Choice for All” events will be held in Evansville and Highland.

The “Share the Vision: School Choice for All” rallies are scheduled as follows:

April 3, Good Shepherd Catholic School, Evansville, 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

April 14, Wicker Park Community Center, Highland, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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