The Kentucky General Assembly will once again have the opportunity to pass a Scholarship Tax Credit program during its 2019 session which lasts from January to March. It is of utmost importance that lawmakers act on this legislation. Every year delayed is a lost opportunity to change the lives of Kentucky students in need of educational options.
If passed, the program would provide $25 million in charitable donations for tuition assistance to low and middle income families so that they can choose the schools that best fit their children’s needs. The proposal includes priority for students with special needs, students in the foster care system, and families with incomes at or below the threshold for reduced lunch. Students with special needs can use funds for either non-public school tuition or services such as physical therapy or speech-language therapy.
Similar programs exist in 18 states, including Indiana and Illinois. Surveys have found that participants in these programs report high levels of satisfaction with their schools of choice. Yet, the benefits of these programs extend well beyond participants. Independent studies have found that public schools in educational choice states also see improvements in outcomes.
A recent poll by EdChoice KY found that a majority, 62 percent, of Kentucky voters, support Scholarship Tax Credits. This support crossed party lines, with backing from registered Independents (69% support), Democrats (56% support), and Republicans (67% support). At a time of great political division, this is an issue that most Kentuckians can agree on.
With the success of other states and public support here at home, some of you may wonder why we don’t already have this program in the Commonwealth. During the 2018 legislative session, thousands of Kentuckians contacted their legislators in support of Scholarship Tax Credit legislation. Members of the General Assembly recognized the broad support for Scholarship Tax Credits, but the legislation was lost in the fray during the contentious debates over public pension reform and tax reform.
There is good reason to be optimistic about Scholarship Tax Credits during the 2019 session. All of the 2018 Scholarship Tax Credit bill sponsors who ran for reelection this past November prevailed. Further, two of the program’s most outspoken supporters within the General Assembly, Representatives Bam Carney and Chad McCoy, were elected to leadership positions by their colleagues in the House of Representatives.
We are well positioned for success in 2019. Yet, this is not a time for complacency. A large portion of the Kentucky House of Representatives will be new to the legislature. They will need to know that families in their districts support this cause. Returning members will need to be reminded that the issue was left unaddressed in 2018 and that it must be a top priority moving forward.
This is where you have an important role to play. If you want to see this program become a reality in the Commonwealth, contact your state representative and leave them a message in support of Scholarship Tax Credits. You can leave a message by phone Monday through Friday by calling 1-800-372-7181. The operator on the line will assist you in getting the message to your state representative. You can also email your state representative. To find their email address, visit www.lrc.ky.gov and following the directions to contact your legislators.
A few minutes of your time is all that is needed to give students the opportunity to succeed.
Andrew Vandiver is the associate director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky.