Scholarship tax credits fail to advance

By Marnie McAllister, Record Editor

The 2018 Kentucky General Assembly, mired down in controversies surrounding public education and pension reform, left by the wayside a measure that aimed to broaden educational choices in Kentucky, especially for low- and middle-income families.

Companion bills in both houses proposed offering tax credits to individuals and businesses that make donations to scholarship-granting organizations, such as the Catholic Education Foundation. Supporters hoped 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 such funding would enable more low- and middle-income families to choose Catholic schools.

“We are disappointed, but we don’t want people to feel discouraged,” 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.

“We made a lot of progress,” he said. “There’s a possibility there’s going to be a special session called this year. What we need to do is, if and when, that session is called, ensure tax credits are a top priority.”

In order to do that, Vandiver said, supporters must continue to contact their lawmakers, show up at public forums and remain vocal about their support.

Vandiver noted that more than 5,000 individual emails and an unknown number of phone calls were made to lawmakers in support of scholarship tax credits.

“That’s more emails (in the CCK’s network) to legislators this session than in the last four years,” he said.  Now, a lot of those supporters are upset, he noted.

He urged supporters to “take that disappointment and anger, be assertive, but be civil. Tell legislators they need to make every family in the state a priority to find the school that best fits their needs.”

“The data supports it and common sense,” added Vandiver. “I have three children at home and they’re each so different. You’re a parent, you have a child and you want to get them in a place where they’re going to flourish. That’s where school choice begins.”

Scholarship tax credits, he said, attempt to remove the financial hurdles to choice.

Leisa Schulz, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Louisville,  called the fate of scholarship tax credits this session a missed opportunity.

“I am disappointed scholarship tax credit legislation was not passed in this legislative session, despite the broad support it had among legislators and constituents in Kentucky. I think we missed an opportunity to take a stand as leaders to provide access and school choice to all students and families in Kentucky.  I look forward to continuing to advocate for scholarship tax credits,” she said.

The CCK and the archdiocese are part of a coalition supporting tax credit legislation, led by EdChoice KY, which contends that scholarship tax credits have wide support in Kentucky.

EdChoice KY commissioned a poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies in 2015 that showed seven in 10 Kentuckians support the use of some public funding to support a family’s right to “educational choice.”

The EdChoice KY president, Charles Leis, said in a statement April 16 that the measure had more support this year from lawmakers than in years past.

“There is much to be proud of,” he said. “but more to be done.”

“At the end of the day, the General Assembly opted to avoid additional confrontation with our very vocal opponents,” he said in the statement.

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