The Journal Gazette teamed up with HuffPost for an in-depth look at the School Choice Program, commonly referred to as vouchers.
Stories by Journal Gazette reporters Niki Kelly, Ashley Sloboda and Rosa Salter Rodriguez and HuffPost reporter Rebecca Klein examine how the initial concept in Indiana expanded, the faith-based curriculum some schools use, whether vouchers are affecting the demographics of schools and where students with special educational needs attend, and the effect on home school enrollment.
From a family of six children and two hard-working parents – a nurse and a firefighter – she used a tax-paid voucher to graduate from Bishop Luers High School last year in Fort Wayne.
She is now a freshman at Indiana University.
“Without the continued support from all those in favor of the School Choice Program, I would not be where I am today academically and spiritually,” Rodriguez wrote in a speech she gave at a school choice rally in January. “I firmly believe that the School Choice Program and Bishop Luers forever changed my life and will continue to help my family and many other families that are financially burdened.”
That speech garnered attention nationally, and in May Rodriguez was standing beside U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as a special guest at a conference in Indianapolis.
That's because Indiana's voucher program – the largest in the nation after just six years – could be a guide for a national initiative.
But not everyone is on board with using tax dollars to pay for religious education at a private school. GOP lawmakers implemented the program and have tweaked it little-by-little to expand its reach and possibly its entire premise.
“The way it was rolled out was perceived to be more of a focus on our most at-risk students – to get them out of situations where public schools weren't performing,” said Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick. She is also a Republican, but this is one area on which she and her colleagues disagree.
“Now when you look at the data it has become clear that the largest growing area is suburban white students who have never been to public school.”