Why would someone pay for public school? Classes are large, teachers are overworked, rules are inflexible, and nobody knows your name.
Those are the stereotypes. But many public schools attract out-of-district students because of their wide range of academic and extracurricular opportunities.
Katie Meneely, 17, and Allen Taylor, 16, pay to attend North Central High School in Marion County's Washington Township, which has one of the largest cash-tuition programs in the state. This school year, 121 out-of-district students attend the township's schools -- 103 at North Central -- at an annual cost of $4,000 each.
Katie, who is from Sheridan, decided to transfer to North Central for a more diverse environment and enhanced academics.
"I wanted to meet new people and get away from the same old thing," she said. "Sheridan had a grand total of two foreign languages, and North Central has, like, five or six."
Katie was a junior when she approached her parents about switching schools. "I told my parents I was going to graduate a full year early if I didn't switch schools. So they started looking into how I would be able to switch schools and what they could do to keep me in school for at least the extra semester. And they ended up with the possibility of either transferring me or home-schooling me, and I decided I'd rather transfer," she said.
Allen, who lives in Zionsville and normally would attend Lebanon schools, decided to go to North Central as a freshman, as his sisters had done. He was drawn by the variety of programs. "It has more to offer. They have the J. Everett Light Career Center, and there's more art programs and different things like that. They also have a good soccer program."
Both say North Central helped them make the adjustment. Allen attended Panther Quest, a freshman orientation program at the school in late summer. Katie transferred in January and had a private tour by another student.
"It was a pretty abbreviated tour; it only took about a half an hour, but it helped a lot just 'cause they explained how the halls worked and the numbering and stuff on the rooms," she said.
Both have been pleased with their choice. "A lot of my friends complain about how Sheridan's so small and everybody knows everybody, and they all know what's going on with everybody else, and you don't get as much of that at North Central 'cause it's a big school," Katie said.
Still, they have had to make some adjustments. North Central's classes were harder than they expected. "You get a lot of homework (but) I probably learn more at North Central," Allen said.
It was more of a change for Katie, who had played several sports at Sheridan and was used to special treatment in the classroom. "The athletes did get favored a lot, and I never really had to do much. And so it was a real shock for me . . . because I actually had to do stuff, and I pretty much failed my first class."
Both dislike the commute
In fact, Katie gave up extracurricular activities entirely. "I realized that it would be too much trouble for me to come back in all the time for practices, and it would take up too much time."
Allen manages to participate in soccer and track, but he said the 30-minute commute can be discouraging. "It's sometimes a hassle, like on the weekends, having to drive into town," he said.
Katie's commute is up to 45 minutes if traffic is heavy. Add to that her after-school job in Zionsville.
"It's miserable. I go through a good 45 or 50 bucks a week on gas during school because I'll go to school, and then I have to go to work at night, and then from work I have to go home. And so it's almost 60 miles round-trip for me."
Because of her long commute and the fact that she transferred during the school year, Katie initially had a few problems getting to know other students.
"Socially, you lose a little bit because they have the friends that they've grown up with . . . and as an outsider you don't quite fit in right away. But I mean I've made a lot of friends, and I think it's a lot better than where I was," she said.
Through the transitions, some friendships are bound to change. Katie has remained close to a few long-time friends in Sheridan; Allen's circle hasn't changed much. "I'm still good friends with all my friends from elementary school and middle school, and we just try to keep in touch. It's a little bit harder," he said.
In the end, Katie says, she's gained more friends than she's lost. "I know all the people that I know from my job in Zionsville, and I know all the people that I grew up with in Sheridan, and now I've got the chance to go and meet a whole new group of people at North Central. And I think that's a big plus," she said.
Overall, both agree the advantages of attending North Central far outweigh the disadvantages. "I've always wanted to go to a huge college, 'cause I have never liked the small-town idea, and going to North Central gave me a chance to really realize that I actually do really like it a lot more. It just made me want to go to a big college even more," Katie said.
ASSISTANT EDITORS: Chad Flowers, 17; Paige Thomas, 14.
Each school district determines whether it will accept out-of-district students, based on available space and the diversity of its student body. Those that do offer a cash-tuition program usually require prospective students to meet academic standards and to have had no disciplinary action against them.
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