Some local parents prefer religious school

2013-08-26T20:30:00Z 2013-08-27T07:35:04Z Some local parents prefer religious schoolCarmen McCollum carmen.mccollum@nwi.com, (219) 662-5337 nwitimes.com

Some students are using state vouchers to attend private schools rated the same or worse than their public school counterparts.

Indiana passed a school voucher law in 2011. School vouchers allow a student to use state dollars — previously distributed to public schools — to attend a private school of his or her choice.

The program, in its third year of operation, has more than 9,300 students using vouchers across the state.

In Northwest Indiana, Ambassador Academy in Gary and St. Stanislaus School in East Chicago have drawn the most students to the program.

St. Stanislaus Principal Mary Jane Bartley said of the 258 students at the school, 153 are on vouchers.

Ambassador, founded by Embassies of Christ Church in Gary, had an enrollment last year of 321 students from 18 months old to those in eighth grade. The school added ninth grade this year. Last year, 151 students were using vouchers.

Officials at the Indiana Department of Education said they do not have current numbers for the amount of money each school has received for vouchers. 

About 114 students were on vouchers last school year at St. Stanislaus, but an expansion of the voucher law this year allowed some of the families who were already at the school to become eligible for the vouchers, Bartley said.

"Children who were in an F school can be accepted here on a voucher," Bartley said. "We have several schools with an F rating. Parents who live in those districts can also be accepted on a voucher."

St. Stanislaus had been rated a D, but the year before had an A, Bartley said. They were denied an appeal to that rating.

"We believe it was an error," she said.

Marco and Judith Gonzalez, of East Chicago, have three children -- in first, third and eight grades -- at St. Stanislaus School, all using the voucher.

"I was concerned about St. Stan's getting a D rating but I did not consider moving them because of that," Judith Gonzalez said. "I feel that St. Stan's is a lot safer for my children.

"My eighth-grader has always been a gifted student even when he was at Franklin School in East Chicago. I moved him because he wasn't getting the education he needed there."

Franklin School in East Chicago, along with Washington Elementary and Block Junior High School, in East Chicago received an F.

Gonzalez said she doesn't understand why St. Stanislaus School received a D, and she believes it's doing a better job than its public school counterparts.

She also said it's safer and she "values" the religious education.

Parent Sheila Griffin of Merrillville, mother of five, said four of her children attend Ambassador Christian Academy in Gary, while her oldest son is a sophomore at Andrean High School.

Ambassador Christian Academy, which has traditionally had the greatest number of voucher students in the state, dropped from an A to a C.

Miller Elementary School and Merrillville High School in the Merrillville Community School Corp., where Griffin's students were scheduled to attend school, both received an A rating.

"I moved my children because I wanted them to have a Christian-based education. That's the best choice for our family.

"I was slightly concerned that Ambassador dropped to a C, but my children's scores have remained high. We intend to keep them there."

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