By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
Laura Kelty said providing a faith-based education for her seven children is of the utmost importance, but it wouldn’t be possible without financial assistance from the Catholic Education Foundation (CEF).
“We wanted to make sure that God wasn’t just present in our home, but that he was also present in the place where our children attended school,” said Kelty.
Laura Kelty and her husband Andrew are one of the nearly 1,800 families that, thanks to financial assistance from the CEF, were able to choose Catholic schools this year.
If the newly created EdChoice Kentucky coalition is successful in its mission to get a scholarship tax credit program instituted in Kentucky, many more families may be empowered to make that decision.
The coalition — formed in May of this year, and officially launched Oct. 13 — is comprised of state legislators, educators, faith groups of different denominations and businesses from Kentucky, all working “to ensure that every student has the opportunity to succeed,” said a statement from the coalition.
Helping to lead the effort is the Catholic Conference of Kentucky (CCK), which is working on behalf of the state’s dioceses to support school-choice programs. Andrew Vandiver, associate director of the CCK and a board member of EdChoice, said during a recent interview that the coalition’s primary focus is to add new members and educate the public about the proposed scholarship tax credit program.
According to the coalition, a scholarship tax credit program would allow individuals and businesses to receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit on state taxes when they donate to a qualified non-profit organization, such as the CEF, that offers tuition assistance to low and middle income students for use at a non-public school chosen by their parents.
Several other states, including Indiana, have passed such legislation.
Charlie H. Leis, vice chairman and chief executive officer of Brandeis Machinery & Supply Company, said he’s in “total support” of a scholarship tax credit program. Brandeis recently donated $200,000 to the CEF, which Richard A. Lechleiter, CEF president, said is the largest single donation received from a business.
Leis said such a program would most likely motivate him to donate more. “From a business standpoint, getting a tax credit makes a big difference,” he said, adding that it will likely motivate other businesses to donate, as well.
Leis said the reason his company gives is quite simple: “We’re trying to pay it forward a little bit.”
Leis said that Brandeis, which has about 100 employees in Louisville, has benefitted from the work of private school graduates. Many of the people leading his company are graduates of Catholic schools, he noted.
“You can’t keep taking from a system without putting back into it,” Leis said, adding that he believes a scholarship tax program may help turn things around for the Kentucky education system, which he believes “continues to lag behind other states.”
Leisa Schulz, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Louisville, called this effort an “important initiative” that would give more parents the option to choose their children’s school, which honors Catholic social teaching, she said.
Such a program would place “greater emphasis on education,” she noted. “A tax credit program would allow families to attend our schools by providing additional assistance to those most in need.”
Kelty said one of the many benefits her children are receiving by attending Catholic schools is preparation for career success in the future. Kelty’s 17-year-old daughter is a graduate of Presentation Academy and currently a freshman at Eastern Kentucky University, where she receives a scholarship. She plans to study equine veterinary medicine.
Kelty credits Catholic education with helping her daughter win the scholarship. “Catholic schools help them to realize that they won’t just stumble upon something, but that they need to plan for their future,” she said.
Kelty’s 16-year-old currently attends Presentation and her five younger children attend St. Stephen Martyr School.
“Any time a corporation is able to invest in a child’s future, it’s in the best interest of the community,” Kelty said.
Vandiver said the proposed scholarship tax credit program has been well received. According to results of a poll commissioned by EdChoice Kentucky, more than 70 percent of people (from 500 likely voters across gender, race and political affiliation) are in favor. The poll found support among both Democrats and Republicans exceeded 70 percent. The highest support came from African American respondents with 84 percent supporting a scholarship tax credit.
On Oct. 12 the proposal faced its first major hurdle when a panel, including Vandiver, presented it to a joint interim education committee in Frankfort, Ky. The committee, comprised of members of the state Senate and House of Representatives education committees, welcomed the proposal.
“It was well received,” said Vandiver. “The legislators asked many good questions and they showed lots of interest following the hearing.”
Vandiver said the next step is to file a bill in the Kentucky General Assembly during the 2016 legislative session, which takes place between January and April. He said after this happens it will be up to members of EdChoice Kentucky, parents and members of the public to make sure the bill receives a full hearing.
“I know some people are apprehensive about calling or writing to legislators,” he noted. “But I want to encourage them to reach out and express that they’d like them to support the bill.”
For more information, visit www.edchoiceky.com and follow the coalition on Twitter @EdChoiceKy for updates. To find your state representatives, visit the Kentucky legislature’s website at www.lrc.ky.gov.