Ambassador Christian Academy in Gary leads the state with the highest number of students using vouchers, at 257 vouchers, for the 2013-14 school year.
School vouchers, called Choice Scholarships, allow a student to use public state dollars to attend a private school. The program, in its third year, has 19,809 students using vouchers across the state; 313 schools in Indiana participate in the program.
The Indiana Department of Education gave Ambassador an F in 2013. The school was established by Embassies of Christ, in Gary. In 2012, Ambassador earned a C, an A in 2011, and a B in 2010. Vouchers have allowed Ambassador Academy to grow over the years.
In the first year of the Choice Scholarship Program, the 2011-12 school year, Ambassador had 110 students who used the voucher, and in the second year, 156 students. This school year, the school reported 421 students in preschool to ninth grade, with 257 using vouchers.
According to the the Indiana Department of Education's annual report on the Choice Scholarship Program, Ambassador Christian Academy received $1.2 million from the state in 2013-14 for the voucher program.
A private school cannot accept new students with vouchers if it earns a D or an F for two consecutive years. St. Stanislaus School in East Chicago is the only private school in Lake and Porter counties that has received two consecutive low ratings, an F in 2013 and a D in 2012.
The Gary Community School Corp. led the region in the number of students who obtained vouchers — 607 — at a cost of $4.6 million to the district, to attend a private school.
Gary Community School Corp. Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt, who has been in office for a year and a half, said she has initiated several actions to attract students to the district. She said the district has upgraded technology, added 12 dual-credit classes at the Gary Area Career Center and continues to overhaul academic programs.
"There is a misconception when you talk about urban communities and private schools," Pruitt said. "What type of private schools are they? Are they accredited? Are they held to the same standards as public schools? Are those standards fair and measurable for both?"
School City of East Chicago Board President Jesse Gomez, whose district lost 294 students and $2.25 million to vouchers this school year, said he is not in favor of the voucher program.
"I don't believe the results show that all other schools are performing at a higher rate than our schools. Our elementary schools are doing better in the K-through-4 level," he said.
Gomez said the district is searching for a new superintendent, as well as elementary and secondary curriculum directors. He believes once those people are in place, the district can move forward.
Valparaiso Community Schools Superintendent Mike Berta, whose school district lost 45 students to vouchers, said it's a difficult issue to combat if a parent wants a religious education.
"If a family is looking for a parochial school experience, that's not available in the public school. But I believe those dollars were dedicated to public schools, and that's where they should stay," he said.