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The Indiana Choice Scholarship Program has received quite a bit of attention these past few weeks, and with good reason.  National experts indicate that it marks the most successful first year implementation in the history of the parental choice movement.  One aspect of the voucher program that has drawn attention of late is the high number of students enrolling in religious schools, particularly Catholic schools.  Although details on the final numbers are still a little murky, roughly 2,500 students in Indiana will attend a Catholic school this year on a Choice Scholarship.  For supporters of school choice, the level of participation in such a short time frame demonstrates an undeniable success.  For supporters of Catholic schools, the increase in enrollment comes as welcome news at a time when many Catholic schools are closing.  And for individuals who fall into both categories – proponents of school choice and advocates for Catholic schools – there is a temptation to link the two interests, identifying school choice as a panacea that can “save Catholic schools.”  As Scott Alessi’s post rightfully notes, though, it is important that our priorities are in line.

School choice is not merely a means to an end for Catholic schools.  School choice in and of itself represents an opportunity to address a social injustice, as more families are empowered with the opportunity to send their children to the school they desire.  Those who believe in the value of a Catholic education are certainly right in hoping that more parents would then choose to send their kids to a Catholic school.  Nevertheless, school choice is worthy of support even if not a single family chose to enroll their children in Catholic schools.  Redressing a wrong (i.e., that some parents have no say in what school their child attends) is always worthwhile and must remain the primary focus.  That Catholic schools will have more students is an encouraging, but secondary, consequence.

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This school year marks the first opportunity for parents who meet income eligibility levels to apply for an Indiana Choice Scholarship for their children.  According to a WNDU story, more than 1,300 students had been accepted into the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program by the end of last week.  The article reports that roughly 470 of the students will attend Catholic schools in the Fort Wayne South Bend diocese (that number is now, at the time of this writing, up to 550).  To read the full WNDU story, click here: Vouchers spark 40% enrollment increase at Our Lady.

To some, 1,300 hundred students may not seem like a high number, given that the statewide limit on Choice Scholarships is 7,500 this year.  (The cap for next year is 15,000, and there is no cap in future years.)  In actuality, this number marks an undeniable success.  The rules and regulations for the voucher legislation were not released until the second week of July, families and schools a brief window to begin the application process.  Changing schools no doubt requires some level of adjustment for not only the students but the families as well.  In many cases, families were making the decision of whether to apply for a Choice Scholarship at a time of year when school enrollment has normally already been long decided.  One can reasonably assume that the uncertainty surrounding this new process may have caused some families to delay the decision until next year; this has in fact been observed in other states in the first year following enactment of choice legislation.  While the cap of 7,500 may not have been reached, that more than 1,300 students’ families have taken advantage of greater choice is a cause for celebration.