Proposed legislation would increase school choice

Bill before the legislature would benefit private schools


"Indiana State Capitol Building" by Geoff Livingston is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

A bill being considered at the State Capitol would increase school choice and voucher eligibility.

Nick Bozzelli-Levine, Reporter

Remember watching “Schoolhouse Rock” and learning how a bill becomes law? The Indiana legislature is putting those very ideas into practice during the current term, and if one certain bill becomes law, it will directly affect students here.

According to Chief Financial Officer Ms. Colleen O’Brien Teasley and Mr. Benjamin Pawelak, director of database operations for advancement and financial aid, this legislation would raise scholarship voucher amounts and eligibility for low income students to attend private schools, and therefore could greatly benefit Irish families.

House Bill 1001 aims to change education funding that would divert some money from public education in order to allow for private school vouchers to be given to eligible low income families, expanding upon the first form of the program that took effect in 2011.

“There are two main objectives of this bill. One is to increase the amount of students who’d be able to receive a Choice scholarship,” Pawelak said. “The Choice scholarship is where a state provides a student with 90% of what the state would be giving the school district and they give that to students so that they can bring that to their school of choice.” 

Pawelak and O’Brien Teasley said they think that this bill could have major advantages to lower income and middle income families struggling to pay for private school.

The other component of this bill would make more families eligible for scholarships. “For example, a family of four who is earning $73,000 right now (would) receive a choice scholarship as long as they met the criteria,” Pawelak explained. “Next year, that could increase to $110,000, and in two years, as long as you’ve earned under $147,000 and met the criteria, you could earn a Choice scholarship.” 

The advantages to students on the Hill specifically would be both significant and impactful. “Currently, we’re meeting overall 71% of need and with this legislation in Year 2 we’d be able to meet 87% of need,” O’Brien Teasley said. Currently, about 243 students receive a voucher. According to Pawelak, that number could increase to 350 in Year 2, around 33% of the student population. 

(The bill) expands their ability to choose a Catholic school for their child.”

— Mrs. Colleen O'Brien Teasley

“This would have a major impact on Cathedral families as well as all families enrolled in a Catholic school in the state of Indiana,” O’Brien Teasley said. “It expands their ability to choose a Catholic school for their child.” 

Pawelak and O’Brien Teasley are uncertain whether the bill will pass, as it has to go through the many layers of the legislative process before being signed. “There’s still a lot of uncertainty if this will pass as is, it still needs to pass at the state Senate,” Pawelak said. 

However, O’Brien Teasley is confident that if there’s enough support from school communities, it will lead to an affirmative vote. “This is where we need our constituents to reach out to their state senators and ask for support,” O’Brien Teasley said. She also urged students and families to be proactive and contact their local representatives. “Please tell your parents to call their state senators and ask them to support this,” O’Brien Teasley said.

Overall, O’Brien Teasley and Pawelak hope that if state senators are encouraged by their communities, then House Bill 1001 will make a major difference here on the Hill. “If this passes it will be advantageous to all Cathedral students,” Pawelak said. 

In the broader scope of things, O’Brien Teasley said that she thinks the legislation would go beyond allowing more educational options for lower income families. She said, “It’ll be a great benefit to all and help the Cathedral community in total.”