State’s high court strikes down school choice law

The Kentucky Supreme Court struck down school choice legislation in a Dec. 15 ruling, finding it violates the section of the Kentucky Constitution that prohibits the state to raise money for non-public schools.

Andrew Vandiver

The Education Opportunity Account Act, passed with bipartisan support in 2021, would have provided tax credits — capped at $25 million — to individuals and businesses that help fund Education Opportunity Accounts for low-income students. The funds could be used for a variety of educational services, including tuition for non-public schools.

The Catholic Conference of Kentucky, the public policy arm of Kentucky’s bishops, has advocated for such legislation for two decades.

Andrew Vandiver, the associate director of the conference and president of the EdChoice Kentucky coalition, said the decision will keep “thousands of Kentucky students from reaching their full potential.”

“Courts across the nation — from state supreme courts all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — have universally upheld similar school choice programs as legitimate expressions of parents’ fundamental rights over their children’s education,” said Vandiver in a statement Dec. 15. “Over 30 states have school choice programs and the number of students enrolled continues to grow every year.

“Due to this unprecedented decision, Kentucky students now face a unique disadvantage compared to their peers in our surrounding states who have a wide array of options.”

Vandiver pledged to continue advocating for school-choice in Kentucky.

“A decision this far outside of the mainstream of legal jurisprudence will not stand the test of time. School choice programs are popular, proven and change the course of students’ lives,” he said. “This effort to empower parents is too important to stop, and we will continue working to give every Kentucky student access to an education as unique as they are.”

The CCK said it supported the Education Opportunity Accounts Act because it would give low-income families the financial means to choose the educational tools they need — something wealthier families already have.

The accounts could be used by public and non-public school children for a variety of services, such as special-needs therapies, tutoring, summer programs and dual college credit courses. In Kentucky’s largest counties, where the population exceeds 90,000, students could also use the funds for tuition assistance to attend non-public schools, including Catholic Schools.

The law was challenged by public school boards and a group of Kentucky parents. The lawsuit called the tax credit a scheme to “move state revenue through a private grant program.” As a result, it said, “state expenditures will impermissibly fund private schools.”

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