The number of area students attending private schools using state vouchers nearly quadrupled this year, officials reported.
About 90 students now use the state-funded vouchers to attend classes at Redeemer Lutheran and Sts. Joan of Arc and Patrick schools — the only schools in the area authorized to accept them. That number was about 25 last year.
“It’s been a blessing for families to be able to look at alternatives for their child’s education and be able to afford it,” said Ruth Lavrenz, principal at Redeemer Lutheran.
She attributes the sharp rise, in part, to increased program awareness.
Three years ago, people didn’t understand what a voucher was, much less how to use one. Now, people know what they are, she said. And the state has made it easier to qualify for one.
They passed a law last session that allows siblings of current voucher participants to receive vouchers as well.
In the past, students had to attend a full year of public school before becoming eligible for the private school vouchers. Now, some students who’ve been in private school for years qualify for state assistance without trying out public schools first.
That rule helps out families who need it most, said Therese Bath, director of stewardship for St. Joan of Arc Church.
“To qualify that way, you have multiple children in the school,” she said. “It can be expensive. We realize that.”
Eighty children this year attend Sts. Joan of Arc and Patrick School on vouchers, many using the sibling provision, Bath said.
The voucher students there make up 27 percent of the school’s 300 students.
The program has really found success there, Bath said. It grew from two students the first year to about 20 the second year and 80 now.
Redeemer Lutheran has far fewer voucher students but has still seen significant growth in the program, Lavrenz said.
About 10 students this year attend school using the vouchers. Only about four did last year.
While some qualified for the vouchers using the sibling provision, some are qualifying another way.
Lavrenz said the school pushed hard this year to raise more money for the need-based scholarships it awards to students.
Students who receive at least $500 in scholarship money from their private school are eligible to apply for a voucher the following year, even if they never attended public school, Lavrenz said.
Redeemer Lutheran awarded about a dozen scholarships to students in hopes that some of them will be able to receive vouchers next year, she said.
Bath said the changes in the law have allowed Sts. Joan of Arc and Patrick School to serve more families in the community — families who have long wanted their children to be raised in a Catholic school but didn’t have the money to send them there.
“Boy, it sure has benefited out students,” she said. “We’ve seen families who had been at the school but weren’t sure they’d be able to stay. … It never gets easier for families to pay the bills.”
Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune education reporter, can be reached at 765-454-8585 or at email@example.com.