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Indiana Choice Parent Questions Vouchers for Church Steeples

Guest post by Kate Shively.

The recent post regarding St. Jude's Catholic School/Church's reconfiguration of tuition has brought attention to how the Catholic Schools might restructure their management of the funds being distributed to their schools from the state. As a tax-paying citizen, I have some issues with what was proposed in this post. Also, as a parent and member of the Catholic Church, I also have some serious reservations about this model. 

Choice School Family
But, first, I should come clean and forthright - we are a family that has tried them all - charter, vouchers, public, and homeschooling. Currently, we attend a catholic school through the voucher program. Our teachers have been wonderful in terms of listening to our education concerns and helping our children. And our children love their school. But I don't like what I'm seeing happen across the state - not just at St. Jude's. I have to admit; I didn't fully understand the repercussions of what it meant to accept "vouchers" until I actually experienced it. This is not a critique of Catholic Schools or Public Schools - it is a critique of the "system of funding" for all schools.

Summary of Tuition Reconfiguration
If St. Jude's (and other Catholic churches) reconfigure tuition based on what they might receive from the state as a subsidy, the church will no longer have to subsidize the cost of education for Catholic families. In other words, the offerings that the parish community gives every Sunday to partially cover the difference of the discount all Catholic families receive was/is a mission of the church to educate its congregation with a Catholic education. Apparently, the mission will be to help families find assistance OR state subsidies since the church will not or cannot afford to subsidize the cost of education through their weekly offerings.

According to Fr. Jake, the prior model was:
Cost of education = $4700
Tuition for a Catholic family = $3000
That meant the Church paid $1700 for every child regardless of income.

Discount for large families: Family of 8 children attending school - under the old model that family would only pay $12,000 a year (a flat rate discount for large Catholicfamilies) - Which means the church subsidized large family's tuition for all the children "over" 4. 

Due to these new laws, vouchers might be able to cover the full cost of education for families DEPENDING on income - so the church does not need to make up the difference with subsidies for each child. Rather, all it needs to do is shift things around a bit.

  1. First, increase tuition to cover the cost of education from $3000 to $4700 per child.
  2. Then, remove flat rate tuition for families with more than 4 children - so that way if families with 5+ children qualify for a voucher, then they can get the full cost of education for every child covered by the state- not by the church.
  3. Then convince all families to apply for vouchers/assistance by submitting their IRS documents to the church/school. If families qualify for the voucher, then they'll get amount granted by the state (depending on their income level) - maybe there maybe a need to apply for assistance -depending qualifying amount. 
  4. If families do not meet the qualifications, then no worries; the school has put in place an "assistance" program due to a generous $1million donation (managed by Chase) to offset the cost of tuition if you fall within certain income brackets ( atleast at this particular school). I believe Father Jake said up to $348,000 for a family of 4 - they could still get 50% covered through the assistance program.

Not so bad? Or is it?
Prior to reconfiguring the tuition plan
it wasn't income based
it was anonymous
donations were used to help families
and everyone paying for tuition received the same breaks

After the reconfiguration of the tuition plan
-Income based tuition- or perhaps a "sliding scale" coming from state, assistance, or individuals
- No longer anonymous
-IRS return is being requested from all to determine their tuition contribution
This new model of determination sets up a class-based system -
If you fall in the upper to upper middle class level - (i.e you make more than X amount for a family of four) - we ask you pay for your tuition in full - with no help from the school.
If you fall in the middle class level (i.e. you make Y amount for a family of 4), we will provide your family with assistance to help cover partial tuition.
And if you fall in the low-middle to lower class level (i.e. you make Z amount) you will be provided a voucher - state subsidy to cover your tuition - little to no cost to you or the school.

There are major problems and "strings attached" with this system. 

  1. It separates the church/school - it breaks the church from the school leaving the school to determine how to fund itself. (i.e. In St. Jude's case, a donation of $1million given to the school to be used for assistance for those that qualify under the criteria Father Jake determines; among other fundraisers - like auctions or galas to cover the cost of education and future scholarships)
  2. Yet, it allows the church to benefit the most -the church gets to keep 100% of the offerings on Sundays - eliminating the cost of education from it's bottom line for it's congregation as a mission of the church.
  3. As a result the funds the church saves from this system will allow it to repair and maintain the church - but not necessarily the school. In fact, there is no mention of the school being a mission of the church any longer; in fact, it sounds like that mission now needs to be covered either by the state, the donation to the school, or the families so the church can take on "new" missions.
  4. According to Fr. Jake, there is a potential of$168,000 in surplus (and more in the future), which can all be used on the church - because the offering won't be used on the school any longer. I believe this is the 58% that the church gives to the school from offerings. That's not so bad, but it makes you wonder - So our tax dollars have helped a religious institution that was meant to be kept separate from the "state?" But now the church is separating from its own mission?
  5. STRING #1: Father said there were no strings attached to this money - there are always strings attached. The first string is - Families must sign contracts who receive the voucher that state they understand their children MUST attend school on the days of ISTEP and will not be excused from testing for any reason. Other families do not have to sign this contract. Why is that? Why are only voucher families required to sign contracts stating their child MUST take a state mandated test?
  • a. And if the ISTEP is being used to measure the "learning" of the voucher children while at this school - is it possible that it can be used to evaluate the school based on state accountability outcomes?
  • b. Or worse, is it going to track these "voucher" families wherever they go?
  • c. And if we refuse to sign this contract, then we do not get the money to choose the school we want to send our children to?
  • d. Where is this data going and for what purpose?
  • e. Is it because we are "fully accredited" by the state? If so, why? Why are Catholic Schools "fully accredited" which requires the SAME accountability as PUBLIC schools? How are the Catholic Schools any different than the PUBLIC schools? Except that you may have to pay to attend dependent on your socio-economic status- while being mandated to meet certain requirements determined by the state - Requirements that you may disagree with even though you pay for the school's programs with your time, donations, AND your tax dollars??? 

6. STRING #2: Families must apply each year AND come in twice a year to sign paperwork in person to have the voucher money transferred to the school - maybe you don't think this is a string, but the fact you have to provide your data and financial information to release that money or to qualify for it is a string. Just think the families that can afford to pay for tuition will be "free" of having to provide any private information or risk others knowing what their financial business is ----

7. STRING #3: Once you get above a certain income level, are you going to be able to afford the tuition if you don't qualify for the voucher any longer? Is that $1million going to be there forever? No. It will require replenishment - how is that going to be accomplished? Is there a plan in place to replenish this money for the school assistance program?

Nothing ever comes without strings attached. I'm quite sure there are even more strings attached related to curriculum - evaluation - and privacy. The statement that there are "no strings attached" actually implies there are LOTS of strings attached. 

Choice Scholarship/Voucher Family
Listen, I'm "just" a voucher parent that chose to participate in this choice system. Some people have told me that I should support this and that I can't question or grapple with this "choice system" because I "accepted" the money from the state and made this choice. If I don't like it, I can leave. Hmmm - 

My response is: I have even MORE right to question critically this choice system because it's my family's data, identity, reputation, and tax dollars being tagged and documented in such a way that it brings a "label" to how we live our life. Besides, where are we going to go? At this time, we have to "accept" tax dollars at ALL the schools we "choose" - we don't have the resources to do otherwise. And that limits us from really making any "choice" --- right now, I feel our only choice is to voice my concerns and enter into a dialogue about this topic...which concerns ALL schools and families!

FINAL WARNING: This voucher system will not only damage the public schools, it will also damage the religious schools. too. The public policy makers are trying to reduce their bottom line, the church is trying to reduce its bottom line, and the corporations want to profit from education. Greed isn't picky about what or whom it destroys. It just does. 
I welcome your comments.

Kate Shively, Concerned parent


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