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Pro-voucher mom defends Indiana choice program

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A woman who says her oldest child thrived in Roman Catholic schools after struggling in Indiana's public education system defended the state's broad new voucher law Thursday, saying it provides opportunities to send children to appropriate schools their families might otherwise be unable to afford.

Heather Coffy, one of two Indianapolis women seeking to help defend the Indiana program against a legal challenge, said her son Delano was flunking out of a township public elementary school in fourth grade before she moved him to St. Monica's Catholic School on the Indianapolis north side. She said his transfer to a better learning environment helped her son grow.

"It was amazing: his demeanor, his attitude, his confidence, his grades. It was like night and day," Coffy said at a courthouse news conference as her two younger children, sixth-grader Darius Coffy and third-grader Alanna Marshall, looked on. Delano was on a basketball trip before the start of his freshman year at Bishop Chatard High School.

Coffy and Monica Poindexter, the mother of another Indianapolis Catholic high school student, filed a petition Thursday seeking to intervene in a lawsuit filed by union teachers, administrators and clergy challenging Indiana's new voucher program. The two women are represented by the Institute for Justice, an Arlington, Va.-based school choice advocate that says it has helped defend voucher programs like Indiana's in other states.

The lawsuit filed earlier this month in Marion County seeks a preliminary injunction on grounds that most of the private schools whose students are eligible for the vouchers are affiliated with churches or other religious institutions. It also said the Indiana Constitution directs the General Assembly to educate children through a "general and uniform system of Common Schools."

Indiana's program will be limited to 7,500 students this coming school year and 15,000 next year, but then there will be no limit on the number of children who could enroll as long as their parents fall within income limits. Families of four currently earning up to about $60,000 a year could receive them.

As of Thursday, nearly 800 Indiana students had been accepted into the program, and nearly 200 private schools had been approved, said Alex Damron, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education.

They include Coffy's two youngest children. The voucher application for Delano Coffy was pending.

The actual value of the vouchers is based on a sliding scale and less than the amount of tax money a public school would have received for that student. The maximum value for students in first through eighth grade would be $4,500.

The Indiana State Teachers Association, the state's largest teachers union, has said the new law could cut funding to public schools by up to $65.8 million.

"It's not about school choice," ISTA President Nate Schnellenberger said Thursday. "It's about taking public tax dollars that have already been budgeted for public schools and moving them to private schools."

Even before the voucher law, students could attend public school in another district as long as there was space and as long as it was the new school district's policy to accept students from outside its boundaries.

Coffy said she never took advantage of that option. When Delano struggled, other parents advised her to try St. Monica.

"I'm a firm believer that every child has the right to the best education, period. I also want people to understand that school choice is not about a free ride," she said, noting vouchers won't cover all of her children's tuition. She also must arrange transportation for them to and from school.

"I did not choose a Catholic school based off religion," said Coffy, a non-Catholic. "I based it off of the quality of education, the environment, the small classes, the attention that was going to be given for all of my children, and every student that is enrolled in private schools. I think that's what it's all about."

Bert Gall, an institute for Justice attorney, said Indiana's voucher program gives lower-and middle-income families "true education choice."

"The same options that better-off families in Indiana have should be enjoyed by everyone, and this program gives everyone a chance to do just that," Gall said.

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  • Can't have it both ways
    I bet these same families that are accepting the vouchers to attend religious schools are the first ones on the front lines demanding that government stop spending so as to lower their taxes. You can't have it both ways.

    Are the schools like Park Tudor, Orchard, etc. not participating in the voucher program by choice, or because they were not invited? You need to think about that too.
  • NO Voucher Program
    This is the criteria to be eligible! So that makes the people who are responsible and pay their own way NOT eligible - in other words this is just like busing!

    you may still be eligible to receive a voucher if your child was either enrolled in a public school
    the previous two semesters or previously received a Tax Credit Scholarship.

    In addition, there may be some families who will not qualify for a voucher, but qualify for a Tax Credit Scholarship.
    Your child must still have been enrolled in a public school the past two semesters, but the income limit
    is higher for a Tax Credit Scholarship than for a voucher (200% of the federal Free & Reduced Lunch amount
    for the Tax Credit Scholarship vs. 150% for the voucher). This is significant in that, once a student receives the
    Tax Credit Scholarship, they may receive a voucher in the future if the family’s income falls below 150% of the
    federal Free & Reduced Lunch qualifying amount.
  • Sell the school
    When did we become interested in destroying public education rather than improving the public system? Private schools are OK for some people who are willing to pay to an organization with a specific agenda. Religious schools teach their religion and if that is what you want for your children, then send them to one. We are selling our schools to private corporations. Do you think they will not be influenced by big corporations with the money and interest to invest in these private schools? I can see it now: British Petroleum High School. We can call the football team the oil slicks. Let's correct what needs to be corrected to give a better education to our children without selling the system to the highest bidder.
  • Exactly
    Clayton has the right of it: The money should follow the child, not the ISTA's bloviating leftists. Note elsewhere that SIX IPS schools are about to get taken over. Dr. Bennett said, "These schools have failed our children far too long". It's WAY PAST TIME to budget X dollars per child - and that money goes to whatever school that child att5ends. Period, dot, end of discussion.

  • Vouchers a payback to religious groups
    Take a look at the schools in the voucher program. 90% are Catholic and a few other Christian schools. NONE of the elite private schools are taking part. No Orchard, Sycamore or International Schools are participating. The voucher program won't stand in court and those schools know it. But the Catholic schools can get a few million in our tax dollars until the program is found unconstitutional. See: http://www.myschoolvoucher.com/parents/participating_schools.htm
  • No Voucher Program
    I'm sorry, I don't agree with this program. I put all of my children through private school on my income alone. I'm not entitled to the voucher since I've done this for over 18 years. If you want to send your kids to private schools, make sacrafices and don't make me pay for it. I chose to send them there for a better education just like anyone else can, but parents need to be responsible for payment. This is just like the busing system that started in the early 80's and now look what has happened to many township schools! Low test scores and not the best for education. Teach your children something, i.e - if you want something reach for your goal and achieve it without a hand out!
  • Money should follow the child...
    If we can agree on the purpose of education then the concept of money following the child should hold true. Tax dollars are NOT intended to build bloated educational bureaucracies or support teacher unions.
  • We'll see...
    after Istep scores come out.
  • wrong
    My children did not speak English when they entered school, and they are doing fine..I wanted my children to know there heritage and be able to speak to their grandparents. We was born in the US as well as my parents, however we need to also know where we come from.
  • pro-vocher
    Public schools could teach kids, if they did"nt have to be a police officer and teach non-English speaking students. They should KICK these kids out and have their parents educate them,and deport all non-English speaking parents and kids.
    • agenda's??
      It is called following the law!! I know it is not something you conserve's care much about, but is is still breaking the law!
    • not far enough
      If tax money is an issue why then are there tax incentives to buy appliances or a car. Or to get rid of a car! One of the most important decisions a parent will make is for the future of their child and for society in general and we can not use our own funds to do so. I believe the voucher system does not go far enough.School choice would bring about a much needed boost for our education system. Besides supplying an understanding of the three r's , school choice would allow schools to build on their own strengths. Whether that be the arts ,sciences ,or sports the people would then have a true choice.
      But then again , since this is a concept that might actually work,the govt. will try and jump on the bandwagon dragging the teacher's union with it and mess everything up.
      The bottom line is we should be able to choose any school we want our kids to attend and take our tax money with us.
      Faith based education and private schools do have a better track record than public schools in all aspects of schooling and if anyone has been paying attention to the news lately I ask you- Would a little faith be such a bad thing?
      • Against the Indiana State constitution
        That is really all that needs to be said, Oh except now the woman featured in the article will be subsidised by our tax payer dollars. Of course she is for it, it benifits her economically!!
      • Why should I pay?
        I currently pay taxes in my area AND pay tuition for my children to attend private school because the schools here are terrible, overcrowded, violence-ridden, with poor graduation rates. My children take standardized testing and consistently score in the top 95% or higher. One class has 18 children and the other, 9. This gives them quite a lot of one-on-one with their teacher. I would favor a voucher program ONLY if the school were allowed to continue religious education. If a condition of vouchers were that religion could not be taught, then I'll just keep paying double. But that's not right either!
      • Public Money For Private Schools
        You can pay for your child to go to religious school. I do not want my tax money to go to fund any school linked to ANY religion. The core of a society is an educated populous. I'm willing, even though I don't have kids, to pay for that education, but NOT at religious or at FOR-PROFIT private or charter schools making millions from tax dollars and offering substandard education.

        I work as an education researcher and find, without exception, private and most charter schools offer substandard education based on evaluation of curriculum, classroom practice and student educational results -- I'm not talking drill-and-kill test scores. I've worked in 25 states and the results are always the same.
        • vouchers
          Whats wrong with voucher???? Only people with "agendas" would b against this.

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