Indiana Catholic schools end bonuses for referrals

    SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Catholic Church officials in northern Indiana have suspended programs in which some parochial schools offered monetary incentives to recruit students.
    South Bend Community Schools officials have questioned whether it was proper for a Catholic school receiving money from the state’s private school voucher program to also pitch bonuses to those who referred it new students.
    St. Jude Catholic Parish’s bulletin recently had a full-page notice offering a $300 for such referrals to its South Bend school, the South Bend Tribune ( reported Thursday.
    Bill Sniadecki, vice president of the South Bend School Board, said he believed such incentives were unethical for a school accepting state vouchers.
    ‘‘That (state tuition) money is supposed to be going to kids’ education, not some outside individual to recruit kids,’’ Sniadecki said.
    The state is spending about $16 million for some 3,900 students to attend private schools this year in what is the country’s largest voucher program. Indiana law allows vouchers for up to 15,000 children this coming school year, with no cap in future years.
    Mark Myers, schools superintendent for the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese, said some of the diocese’s 41 schools have had referral incentives for five years, long before the state voucher program was approved last year.
    Myers said state money isn’t used for the incentives, but that such bonuses were being immediately suspended.
    ‘‘We’re going to review all marketing strategies,’’ Myers said.
    The practice of providing incentives for referral of voucher students is not illegal, as long as state funding isn’t used for that purpose, said Stephanie Sample, a spokeswoman with the Indiana Department of Education.
    ‘‘We are rigorously keeping track of that money,’’ she said.
    South Bend schools Superintendent Carole Schmidt said the voucher program is leading to open competition with private schools to attract students.
    ‘‘We’re about to launch (our own) marketing campaign’’ to recruit students, Schmidt said. ‘‘It’s a changed environment we’re in.’’
    Information from: South Bend Tribune,