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The School City of Hammond continues a trend of being the top school with the most students who have withdrawn from the district and opted to attend a private school.

That’s according to the Choice Scholarship Program Annual Report: Participation and Payment Data, prepared by the Indiana Department of Education’s Office of School Finance, released in April.

A Choice Scholarship, also called vouchers, uses public taxpayer dollars to help parents send their children to private, nonpublic and religious schools.

The report said the number of Indiana students overall who used private school vouchers grew by 12 percent this school year to nearly 33,000 students.

However, the number of students using vouchers only represents 2.9 percent of the total statewide school enrollment.

According to the report, Hammond public schools had 795 students withdraw and attend a private school. That represents a loss of $3.5 million to the school corporation.

Hammond is followed by the Gary Community School Corp. and the School City of East Chicago. The Metropolitan School District of Boone Township in Hebron is the only school corporation among the 23 school districts in the two counties that have not been affected by vouchers.

The report does not indicate any number if it’s fewer than 10 students.

The Gary Community School Corp. lost 688 students to vouchers, or nearly $3.5 million. The School City of East Chicago lost 358 students for an impact of $1.7 million.

In the 2014-15 school year, the state paid a total of $112 million to schools across the state to state-approved Choice Scholarship Schools.

The 2015-16 payment information is not available at this time.

Although the School City of Hammond lost the most students, it remains the largest school district in Northwest Indiana with more than 13,600 students. It continues to grow each year due to open enrollment.

This school year, Bishop Noll Institute in Hammond, a Catholic school operated by the Diocese of Gary, becomes the private school with the most vouchers. Nearly half the 536 students — 260 students — enrolled this school year are on vouchers.

That’s more than Ambassador Academy in Gary, which has 210 students, nearly all of whom use vouchers. It was ranked No. 1 in voucher use in the state for two consecutive years.

Highland schools Superintendent Brian Smith said he is “100 percent opposed” to the Choice Scholarship program.

“Those dollars need to be reinvested back into traditional public education,” he said.

“Our budgets are tight. The private schools don’t play based on the same rules. They can pick and choose which students they take. Traditional public schools have to take anyone who shows up on their door step.”

The School Town of Highland lost 55 students to private schools, impacting its district by $214,581.


Education reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.