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FWCS on voucher ruling: 'Disappointing, not surprising'

Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 9:27 am

Disappointing, but not surprising.

According to spokeswoman Krista Stockman, that is the position of Fort Wayne Community Schools on the state Supreme Court's decision Tuesday that the 2-year-old voucher program is constitutional.

The 5-0 vote meant that the justices found that the voucher program did not primarily benefit religious institutions that run private schools and was instead meant to allow families to choose where allocated funding went for each student in their household. The Indiana State Teachers Association had filed suit over the program.

Now that the state Supreme Court has ruled, all public school districts have clarity on the system in place - not that they weren't planning on anything being different than before.

"We have been moving forward with the assumption that the court would not throw it out," Stockman said, explaining that the district realizes that the system in place requires them to compete but acknowledging that the ruling is frustrating because dollars now allocated for marketing efforts could be used in other ways to enhance day-to-day operation of the district.

Marketing efforts have increased in the district since last summer, Stockman said, explaining a simple truth: "If the state is telling us to compete, it's really hard to do that without marketing ourselves."

Another area of frustration for FWCS: The lack of transparency in knowing which students are transferring through the use of vouchers and what prompted the desire for change.

"We can't compete on religion. If people want to leave us based on that...we can't offer that (type of instruction)," Stockman said. However, Stockman said a large district like FWCS - which has added more and more types of learning environments and instructional offerings over the years - is at a disadvantage if it can never find out if a student is leaving for reasons other than religious beliefs, because the district then has no way to formulate a strategy about how to address the potential concerns.

A presentation during Monday's board meeting for FWCS indicated the district believes it has lost around 1,165 students through the use of vouchers during the two years of the program's existence, but Stockman said Tuesday that it is likely too soon to see if that type of trend can or will continue.

If it does, the district believes the community would face a bigger loss than FWCS' mission being harmed by lack of funding: The district is still of the belief that in Fort Wayne, it offers students the highest quality education.

"That is a bigger concern for us, making sure that students are getting the best educations possible," Stockman said. "We believe that academics should be the focus. We want to make sure they (students) are as well-prepared as they can be."

East Allen County Schools spokeswoman Tamyra Kelly said this morning, “We support the court and respect their decision, but we concur with the state superintendent in that taxpayer dollars should stay in the public school system.”

Since the state has enacted the voucher program EACS has lost 200 students. However, it is unknown how many of those students left due to vouchers or for other reasons.