Voucher expansion to help families afford private ed

By CHRISTINE STEPHENSON
cstephenson@dcherald.com

JASPER — More families in Dubois County will soon have an opportunity to send their children to private schools without financial burden.

The Indiana Legislature recently expanded income eligibility guidelines for the School Choice Scholarship, or voucher program. The program helps families pay tuition for private education.

Currently, the maximum family income of those eligible is 150% of the federal Free and Reduced Lunch program. Under the new guidelines passed in late April, it will jump to 300% by next year. The changes will go into effect July 1.

“The household income limits more or less doubled, so it basically makes it accessible to almost double the amount of families than it did previously,” Holy Trinity Central Campus Principal Jenna Seng said. “It’s a big win for all families just to know they have a choice in where their child receives their education.”

Many eligible families will also receive more money than before the expansion. Right now, students can receive vouchers of 50, 70 or 90% support based on family income. With the expansion, all eligible students will receive a 90% voucher.

Holy Trinity is the only Catholic school in Dubois County, Seng said. It is also the county’s only private school, besides Jasper Christian Academy’s preschool, according to Private School Review, a website where schools can directly upload information about themselves.

This past school year, 98 out of 351 Holy Trinity students received the School Choice Scholarship. With more families becoming eligible, Seng said she expects that number to grow.

“I would anticipate that number almost doubling for this upcoming school year … so the majority of our students will likely be on vouchers,” she said. “There are a lot of families out there that would choose a private education or a Catholic education for their student, but there’s always been a financial obstacle. This takes the financial decision out of it, so it’s more what is in the best interest of their child versus what they can afford.”

Some opposing the expansion have argued that the eligibility requirements are now too broad and that it will divert funds from public schools. With the expansion, a family of four with an annual income of $147,000 will be eligible. The state’s median family income in 2019 was about $74,000, and Dubois County’s was about $60,500, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The program has been around for about 10 years now, Seng said, but there has never been a major expansion like this. The expansion will help not only low-income families but also middle to upper-middle class families that still struggle to pay tuition.

The two main differences between Holy Trinity and Dubois County’s public school education are class size and the integration of faith-filled learning, Seng said. Many families in the area are Catholic, so they want their children to receive a Catholic education, and class sizes at Holy Trinity are typically kept at 20 students or fewer.

As of right now, there is open enrollment at the school with no wait list, Seng said. The process of applying for the voucher program includes a one-page application and sending in 1040 tax forms.

Seng said the school plans to have parent information nights throughout the summer to let the public know about the expansion and help families through the application process if interested.




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