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With School Vouchers, Who Benefits And Who’s Left Behind? Indiana’s Program Offers Lessons

Wendy Robinson wants to make one thing very clear.

As the long-serving superintendent of Fort Wayne public schools, Indiana’s largest district, she is not afraid of competition from private schools.

“We’ve been talking choice in this community and in this school system for almost 40 years,” Robinson says. Her downtown office sits in the shadow of the city’s grand, Civil War-era Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. In Fort Wayne, a parking lot is the only thing that separates the beating heart of Catholic life from the brains of the city’s public schools.

In fact, steeples dominate the skyline of the so-called City of Churches. Fort Wayne has long been a vibrant religious hub, home to more than 350 churches, many of which also run their own schools.

While the city’s public and private schools managed, for decades, to co-exist amicably, that changed in 2011, Robinson says. That’s when state lawmakers began the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program, a plan to allow low-income students to use vouchers, paid for with public school dollars, to attend private, generally religious schools.