A new service offered by ACE Consulting aims to help Catholic schools capture the opportunities and confront the challenges that can arise when states pass parental choice laws.
These laws typically allow children to attend Catholic schools or other alternatives to local public schools, using vouchers or tax credit scholarships to pay for tuition. Such financial assistance can lead to quickly rising enrollments at some Catholic schools—good news that also raises significant issues about pedagogy, management, and sustainability for these schools.
ACE Consulting has expanded its suite of services to support school leadership in maximizing participation in states that have passed legislation in support of School Choice Scholarship Programs and ensuring high-quality education for all students. The program is a publicly funded scholarship program offering eligible Hoosier families the opportunity to send their children to the school of their choice.
ACE Consulting has developed a diagnostic assessment that addresses a range of impact areas. These include the school's mission and culture; governance; financial management; enrollment management and financing; and academic programming. The objective is to provide participating schools with an action plan to develop fiscal, operational, and instructional competencies to support the highest-quality education to as many children as possible.
This new diagnostic service was pilot tested in five schools during the spring semester of 2012 in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana. Less than a year before, the state government had implemented the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program. ACE Consulting assessed the impacts of this program by surveying information from various stakeholders—parents, pastors, principals, school board members, and teachers. Consultants also conducted classroom observations, focus groups, and demographic reviews.
The results from the 2011 passage of Indiana's Choice Scholarship Program show that schools' wise implementation of such a program is as important as a state's enactment of the law. Not only did Indiana parents relish the newfound autonomy over their child's education, but their decisions reflected a latent demand for Catholic education. Nearly 4,000 students statewide enrolled in the program, more than 2,550 of whom registered with Catholic schools.
At the end of the process this summer, the ACE Consulting team provided a diagnostic review of each school's current status and strategic recommendations to optimize the use of the Choice Scholarship Program going forward.
In the coming months, ACE Consulting will be available to work with the schools, all in the greater South Bend area, to help implement the strategies recommended in each case.
ACE Consulting is poised to use the diagnostic assessment in other dioceses and anticipates that this service may be desired in other states as parental choice laws are passed and Catholic schools respond to the opportunities and challenges of leveraging such legislation.
With more than 25 parental choice programs nationwide—and many more on the horizon—this initiative within ACE is a timely effort to couple two central goals: improving school quality while expanding access to educational alternatives, especially for at-risk families.
ACE Consulting will expand this initiative this fall, providing the diagnostic assessment tools to schools in the Indianapolis and Milwaukee areas, with a view toward extending this work to other locations in the future.