By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
FRANKFORT, Ky. — More than 1,000 people, many wearing the signature yellow scarves of National School Choice Week, gathered on the lawn of the state capitol Jan. 25 for a “school choice” rally. Participants support bipartisan legislation meant to increase donations to certain scholarship-granting organizations through tax credits.
Among them were parents, students and educators from St. Rita, St. Albert the Great and St. Margaret Mary schools in the Archdiocese of Louisville.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, welcomed the large gathering and delivered the opening prayer, asking for blessings upon families and legislators working to pass the legislation.
House Bill 134 and Senate Bill 36 would provide tax credits for Kentucky taxpayers who donate to an organization that provides scholarships to non-public schools, such as the Catholic Education Foundation.
“Dignity unfolds as we deepen education,” said Archbishop Kurtz to his audience.
One of the educators who participated in the rally was Neil Hulsewede, principal of St. Rita School, 8709 Preston Highway. While a group of his students jumped up and down waving their yellow signs, Hulsewede talked about how scholarship tax credits would benefit St. Rita.
St. Rita has experienced huge growth over the past two to three years, increasing enrollment from fewer than 200 students to its current enrollment of 315 students, he said. Thirty-eight percent of the students are Hispanic and other minorities make up another 10 percent. Many of these families depend on tuition assistance, said Hulsewede.
The passage of scholarship tax legislation would be “great” and would give families “more access to the money they need to attend St. Rita,” said Hulsewede. “It’s important legislation that needs to happen.”
Ann Buchanan, a parent of two attended the rally with a group from St. Margaret Mary School. Buchanan agreed that scholarship tax credits are important. She noted that her parents made the “sacrifice” to send her and her six siblings to Catholic schools.
“My dad instilled in us that no one can take your education away and that it’s a right,” said Buchanan. While she is fortunate enough to be able to send her children to Catholic school, she’s aware that’s not the case for all parents, she said. “Every parent should have access to this, not just those who are fortunate.”
Her sixth-grade son Max was among the children who participated in the rally. Max said he likes attending St. Margaret Mary School. He particularly likes that the teachers there encourage students to “be who they are.”
“It’s a right for everyone to have a good education. It’s a chance for kids to have a better future,” said the sixth-grader.
Those who’d gathered on the cold morning heard from several speakers as well. Andrew Vandiver, associate director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky (CCK) spoke at the rally. The CCK represents the concerns of the state’s four bishops on matters of public policy.
Vandiver said he’s heard from families all across the Commonwealth of Kentucky and they are “excited” by the prospect of a tax credit.
“Kentuckians are no longer satisfied with a one size fits all approach (to education),” said Vandiver to the cheering crowd. “For far too many years the voices of Kentucky families have not been heard on the school choice issue.”
Vandiver urged students, parents and educators to call or email their state representatives and ask them to pass scholarship tax credit legislation.
The CCK is a member of EdChoice Kentucky, a non-profit coalition that supports scholarship tax credits.
Rep. John “Bam” Carney of Campbellsville, Ky., the House Education Committee Chair who sponsored HB 134 also addressed the rally. Rep. Carney said he’s often asked why he supports scholarship tax credits. His answer, he said, is that he supports families and children. Every family should have the ability to choose where their children attend school, said Carney.
“One should not be defined by their zip code or socioeconomic level. Families should be able to make the (school) choice that fits their need,” said Carney.
Participants also heard from Sen. Ralph Alvarado of Winchester, Ky., one of the sponsors of SB 36. Sen. Alvarado shared with his listeners that as the son of immigrants, he witnessed the “sacrifice” his parents made to provide a better life for their family. Many low-income students are “trapped” in schools that do not meet their needs, said Sen. Alvarado. “The key to success is a quality education. It’s the core of the American dream. School choice gives kids a way forward to grow and cultivate their unique needs.”