By Allegra Thatcher, Special to The Record
FRANKFORT, Ky. — Yellow scarves waved and children’s voices echoed through the Capitol rotunda during the School Choice Rally in Frankfort Jan. 27. Held inside this year, the event drew a sizeable crowd, with older students taking to the balcony with rally signs.
Students, teachers, parents and others behind the cause advocated for school choice and scholarship tax credits.
Scholarship tax credits would give businesses and individuals a dollar-for-dollar tax credit when they contribute to a qualified scholarship-granting organization. The funds are then dispensed to students who otherwise couldn’t afford to choose a private or parochial school.
Following the rally, House Majority Whip, Rep. Chad McCoy, filed House Bill 350. The bill would create a scholarship tax credit program.
Speakers at the rally included Sen. Ralph Alvarado, Attorney General Daniel Cameron and a panel of parents who shared testimonies about the impact of school choice.
Sen. Alvarado of the 28th district, a long-time champion for school choice, filed a scholarship tax credit bill — Senate Bill 110 — on Jan. 24. He insisted that the scholarship tax credit program is necessary to building a strong education system in Kentucky.
“The lack of means to move or go to private school (shows a) discrepancy between rich and poor,” he said. “We need to give our kids the opportunity to compete nationally with their peers.”
Three mothers also gave testimonies to the impact of scholarships on their children.
Citing experience with poverty and unfortunate circumstance, they argued that zip code should not result in a lack of opportunity.
“Finances shouldn’t determine the first 15 years of childhood education,” one said. Each advocated for an option to choose what is best for their children.
Attorney General Cameron, elected in 2019, agreed.
“Regardless of background, beliefs, wealth or race, Kentucky children should have access to an education that meets their needs,” he said.
“All types of schools and learning environments are necessary to meet the unique needs of every child … public schools, parochial schools, private schools.”
He recognized the role of Rep. John “Bam” Carney in championing the scholarship tax credit movement, but who recently fell ill and so has not been able to bring a bill to the floor.
Cameron accepted get-well cards from the students for the representative.
Andrew Vandiver, associate director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, said he was pleased with the turnout and the lineup of speakers. EdChoice Kentucky organized the rally.
“I think more than anything, it’s hearing from parents, because parents and students is what this is all about,” he said. “We had students from all across the state present.”
He also referenced Attorney General Cameron’s presence as significant to the cause. Cameron is the highest-profile speaker they’ve had, and “we’re excited to see how in his first month of being in office he’s already behind this issue.”
Andi Gardner, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher from Holy Cross School in Covington, Ky., brought 28 students for the first time.
“School choice is very important for our school because we have a lot of families that have a variety of socioeconomic needs and we’re trying to meet them the best that we can,” said Gardner. “When we heard that there was going to be legislation to push this forward, we wanted to be part of it.”
Gardner said she was touched by the poignant stories of the parents whose families have suffered from a lack of school choice.
The Catholic Conference of Kentucky is urging Catholics to stay informed about House Bill 350 by signing up for alerts at https://www.votervoice.net/CCKY/Home. The conference also urges people to contact their state representatives to show support by calling 1-800-372-7181.
Allegra Thatcher is assistant editor of the Messenger, the Catholic newspaper of the Diocese of Covington in northern Kentucky.