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Where voucher dollars flow

Mark GiaQuinta, a Fort Wayne attorney and president of the Fort Wayne Community Schools board, isn't happy with the "tuition reconfiguration" proposal a local Catholic school has pitched to its parishioners.

A 54-minute presentation detailing the proposal, posted in a YouTube video, describes the parish's plan for tapping into more taxpayer-provided voucher payments and infers that tax dollars can offset costs and allow for improvements at the Fort Wayne church. The explanation of how the "parish subsidy" can be redirected seems to to defy the spirit, if not the letter of Indiana's school voucher entitlement program, the nation's largest.

Here is GiaQuinta's response, which was distributed to several dozen people in the Fort Wayne community:

The voucher program in Indiana was defended as a method that would allow poor Hoosier children to escape from failing schools. Of course, many of us knew that was nothing more than a slogan. There never was a voucher requirement that to become eligible, the student leave a poor performing school or apply to a higher performing school (putting aside the problem of defining either). In addition, the income requirements extended well into middle class. Finally, the program was expanded to those who never attended public schools, thus eliminating once and for all the "help those poor kids escape" illusion.

The vast majority of voucher money is now spent by those desirous of a religious education; a facet of the educational experience with which public schools cannot compete. The recent release of the Voucher Study details the number of students receiving taxpayer assistance and the names of the various Catholic, Lutheran, Islamic and non-denominational schools they attend. There are approximately 2800 voucher students within the FWCS boundaries. (FN1) FWCS estimates it lost about 500 students to vouchers; therefore more than 80% of the recipients were already parochial school students.

More alarming, the common school fund has not grown to accommodate the policy decision to fund both public and private schools. The result is fewer dollars for all public schools as the common school fund is diverted to ….. church steeples! Yes, you read that correctly. In a recent address to parish members, Rev. Jake Runyon , Pastor of St. Jude Parish, spoke at length on the importance of parishioners applying for the tax funded choice scholarships. His remarks were recorded and are available on the parish web site. Pastor Runyon made it clear that increasing the number of voucher students will, "ease the financial burden on the parish." He then went on to explain to parishioners that expanding the tax supported scholarships will make it less difficult, "for me to do some certain thing on the Church side of things like fix the steeple, paint the roof and maybe grow the ministries we can do, you know, on the Church side of things." (at 13:00 to 14:00 minute-mark on the video).

I love my Catholic faith and I am proud of my Catholic education, paid for by my dad. I even introduced a Resolution to the FWCS Board a few years back congratulating our Catholic colleagues for Catholic Schools week. My grandfather, Thomas Kelly, stood in for Bishop Noll and broke the ground for Central Catholic High School (with Superintendant Abbot turning dirt beside him). I am, nonetheless, dismayed and disappointed at this acknowledgement that the common school fund has become part of a shell game to support religious activities. It is my hope that community leaders will speak out forcefully to legislators and bring this sorry chapter of constitutional contempt to an end. I fully understand the consequences of speaking out on this issue but I have no desire to serve on the school board and witness its demise as the result of policies which I believe would shock the consciences of the delegates to our Constitutional Conventions of 1816 and 1850.

Thanks for your consideration.

Mark E. GiaQuinta

FN 1: I have not distinguished between a voucher and a "Choice Scholarship" because both direct public dollars from the common school fund to religious education and because the tax funded scholarship program creates voucher eligibility in subsequent years. It is disappointing that so very few taxpayers and "tax watchdogs" understand how the Scholarships work. A taxpayer creates a scholarship of at least $1,000 for her student at a particular school and receives a tax credit (50%) which is taken from the common school fund. The private school can pay the balance of the tuition because the scholarship is a gateway to a voucher in subsequent years.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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