In 2021, Kentucky passed its first school choice program, the Education Opportunity Account Act. This program will incentivize private donations to nonprofit organizations that provide financial assistance to families.
Funding can be tailored to a student’s specific needs and used for tuition and fees for attendance at a non-public school (including Catholic schools), tutoring services, therapy programs, educational technology and more. This was a major win for thousands of Kentucky families who would be eligible for the program.
While this program was a significant step forward for Kentucky, several compromises were made prior to its final passage. When it comes to tuition for private schools, the program is limited to families living in Kentucky’s eight largest counties (Jefferson, Fayette, Boone, Kenton, Campbell, Daviess, Hardin and Warren). Further, the overall size of the program was capped at $25 million. This is a great start, but demand is likely to exceed available funding within a short amount of time.
Fortunately, State Rep. Josh Calloway and State Sen. Ralph Alvarado have filed legislation that would build on the promise of the EOA Act. House Bill 305 and Senate Bill 50 make the following changes to the EOA Act:
- Expand tuition assistance so that it is available to eligible families statewide.
- Allow the size of the program to increase so that funding better meets family demand over the long term.
- Increase income eligibility so that more families can apply.
Rep. Calloway and Sen. Alvarado are not alone in championing this legislation.
As of last week, more than 20 legislators from across the Commonwealth have joined as co-sponsors supporting EOA expansion, including House Speaker David Osborne and Majority Whip Chad McCoy.
The General Assembly needs to take action on one or both of these bills before the end of the session in April if they are to become law in 2022. The time for action on this legislation could not be better. Support for school choice has never been higher.
Nevertheless, opponents persist in arguing that Kentucky parents should not be allowed to benefit from the EOA Act. They often claim that school choice harms public schools, but this could not be further from the truth.
In fact, the states with the oldest and largest school choice programs have seen public school student outcomes improve and public school funding increase over the years after passing their programs.
Contrary to the position of opponents, lawmakers can support public school students and increase school choice for families who
need another option.
In 2021, the Kentucky General Assembly provided an additional $140 million for public schools at the same time that it passed the $25 million EOA Act. The Kentucky General Assembly is poised to increase public school funding by hundreds of millions in 2022. There is no reason that they cannot also invest in students who need a different educational option.
Access to the right classroom is out of reach for too many students. Other families might technically be able to afford the cost of private school tuition, but only after making significant sacrifices. Parents should not have to go into debt or work multiple jobs just so their children can have access to a classroom where they will succeed.
Fortunately, expanding the EOA Act would provide needed assistance to thousands of students in the near term and represent a major step toward leveling the playing field for all Kentucky families.
If you agree that more families need this type of opportunity, please take time to contact both your state representative and senator. You can call 1-800-372-7181 and ask the operator to connect you to your legislators based on your home address.
Tell them that you support school choice and specifically ask for them to make passing HB 305 and SB 50 a top priority for 2022. It only takes a couple of minutes of your time to make a big difference for Kentucky students.
Andrew Vandiver is the associate director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky.