Scholarship tax credits aim to aid families

Children served by the Community Catholic Center took part in a Thanksgiving prayer service at Good Shepherd Church, 3511 Rudd Avenue, Nov. 19. Prior to the service, the center and the Catholic Education Foundation provided a Thanksgiving meal for families assisted by the Community Catholic Center. (Record Photos by Jessica Ables)

Two years ago, Heather Weatherspoon, a single mother of two children, was at her wit’s end worrying about her son’s education.

“I knew he wasn’t getting the help he needed and wanted to find the right fit for him,” she said in an interview last week.

She thought a Catholic school would better suit his needs but didn’t think it was financially possible.

With support from the Catholic Education Foundation and the Community Catholic Center, which helps children in West Louisville attend Catholic schools, Weatherspoon was able to provide an educational experience for her son that she never had.

“As a parent, you want your children to have better than you did,” she said.

Her son, Michael, a seventh-grader, is in his second year at St. Nicholas Academy. And her daughter, Kayley, attends the school’s prekindergarten program.

A scholarship tax credit program could expand education access for families like Weatherspoon’s, say advocates of such legislation.

Legislation that stalled in last year’s Kentucky General Assembly would have offered

tax credits to individuals and businesses that make donations to scholarship-granting organizations, such as the Catholic Education Foundation.

Supporters say the tax incentive would encourage donations, thereby increasing the amount of tuition assistance available to families choosing non-public schools.

In the Archdiocese of Louisville, an increase in funding to the CEF would enable more low- and middle-income families to choose Catholic schools.

“Scholarship tax credits would dramatically increase private donations to needs-based tuition assistance programs for K-12 students who wish to attend a non-public school,” said Andrew Vandiver, the associate director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky (CCK). The conference represents the state’s four Catholic bishops on matters of public policy.

Tuition assistance programs, such as the CEF, give families “the dignity of choice,” Vandiver said.

For the 2019-2020 school year, the Catholic Education Foundation — together with the archdiocese, its parishes and its funding partners — awarded $6.5 million in tuition assistance to 3,250 students.

Julie Baum, senior director at CEF, said the foundation takes a three-pronged approach to tuition assistance.

“It’s a partnership between us (the CEF and the archdiocese), the parish and school and the families. All three come together to make this work,” she said.

Weatherspoon receives tuition assistance totaling just under 50 percent of the $6,850 tuition bill for her son.

“Sometimes it’s a little hard but I make do. I’m a person that is big into budgeting my money and I make sure the tuition gets paid, hands down,” she said.

Weatherspoon owns a day spa in southwest Louisville. She also works part-time as a teacher’s aid in a second-grade classroom at St. Nicholas.

Without the support of the CEF and the Community Catholic Center, Weatherspoon said she would not be able to provide the type of education she desires for her child.

She added that increased financial aid made possible through a scholarship tax credit program would make a difference to countless families.

“It would help families a whole lot, especially mothers like me,” she said. “So many people, so many people would benefit.”

About 42 percent of families who receive assistance from the CEF receive more than 40 percent of tuition aid. The highest award is 96 percent of tuition.

Jackie McAtee, center, and Savannah McAtee, right, filled their plates with Thanksgiving fixings at Community Catholic Center’s Thanksgiving dinner Nov. 19. Families and students, who receive aid to attend Catholic schools, attended a prayer service at Good Shepherd Church afterward.

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