Other states that have introduced voucher programs also have seen booms in parochial school enrollment.

In Ohio, where children from low-performing public schools can use vouchers to attend private schools, about 70 percent of students receiving vouchers have used them to attend Catholic schools, said Chad Aldis, executive director of School Choice Ohio.

That demand comes at a price to public schools, which say the voucher program siphons off money they need.

The South Bend district expects to lose $1.3 million in funding if all the students who have signed up for vouchers leave.

Interim Superintendent Carole Schmidt instructed principals to contact parents of students who are leaving to find out why and make a last pitch for them to stay.

Rita Baxter of South Bend said she won’t be dissuaded from sending her 14-year-old daughter to the private Marian High School in Mishawaka.

The Baxters’ 16-year-old son attends a public high school in South Bend, and his parents are pleased with his education. But they think Marian is a better fit for their daughter.

Baxter and her husband planned to pay their daughter’s tuition to Marian on their own until he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer two years ago. His illness devastated their finances and made it impossible for him to continue working as a vice president for the Silver Hawks minor league baseball team. He is still recovering and can’t work full time.

At first, they assumed Sara would have to forget about Marian. Then they heard about the voucher program.

“We’re hoping that my husband makes a full recovery and goes back to work, and we can go back to just being normal and let somebody else have the voucher,” Baxter said.