By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
FRANKFORT, Ky. — A rally in support of school choice legislation in Kentucky drew several hundred people to the steps of the state Capitol last week.
School children, parents, educators and others in favor of two measures before the 2017 Kentucky General Assembly braved freezing temperatures and snowy weather Jan. 27 to attend the outdoor Kentucky School Choice Rally.
House Bill 162 and Senate Bill 102 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.
Students and educators from Nativity Academy, St. Martha School and St. Stephen Martyr School were among those in attendance.
Blake Ruffin, an eighth-grader at Nativity, said the rally was important because many children “do not have a chance to get a Catholic education” because their families cannot afford one.
“This (scholarship tax-credit program) is a way to help others get a Catholic education,” he said.
Nativity Academy provides a Catholic education to urban youth in fifth through eighth grades at a dramatically reduced tuition rate. It relies on donations to fund the remainder.
Carol Nord, executive director of Nativity, said parents should have the ability to choose the best school for their child, whether that is public or private, “no matter a person’s socio-economic status.”
The rally drew several speakers, including Andrew Vandiver, associate director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky (CCK). The CCK represents the concerns of the state’s four bishops on matters of public policy. The CCK is a member of EdChoice Kentucky, a non-profit coalition which supports scholarship tax credits,
Vandiver told the crowd that the coalition’s goal is “to give all students in Kentucky an equal opportunity in education by passing a scholarship tax-credit program.”
He said a scholarship tax-credit program would “level the playing field for Kentucky students by increasing financial aid so that our families have the dignity of school choice.”
“Because this is more than policy. This is about the dignity of having choice,” he said, telling those gathered that it is “your stories … that will move our leaders to action.”
“Scholarship tax credits will unlock a world of opportunity for Kentucky students. Join me in calling on Kentucky’s leaders to take bold action to ensure every student in Kentucky has the opportunity to succeed,” Vandiver said.
Rep. John “Bam” Carney of Campbellsville, Ky., the House Education Committee Chair who sponsored HB 162, said the goal of any education system, whether public or private, should be “to equip every child with the tools he or she needs to reach their fullest potential.”
“That should be the only goal. We need to get politics out of the way, we need to get race out of the way. We need to get economic status out of the way and do what’s best by the child,” said Carney, who served as a public school teacher for 20 years.
Sen. Ralph Alvarado of Winchester, Ky., one of the sponsors of SB 102, said that Kentucky is 42nd in the nation in education achievement among low-income students. One of the ways to address this problem, he said, is with a scholarship tax-credit program.
“There are many great public schools but not every school can meet the needs of every family,” he said.
Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia already have some type of school-choice program, Alvarado said.
He underscored that the proposed scholarship tax-credit legislation would not be dependent on any public funding.
Michael Bickett, principal of St. Martha, said scholarship tax credits would open the door to Catholic education for many families.
“The state of Kentucky is behind when it comes to school choice,” he said. “Why not us? Let’s give a chance for lower-income families to attend a Catholic school.”
The rally was also an opportunity for students to see the political process in action, said Bridget Britt, principal of St. Stephen Martyr. Students from the school on Hess Lane wrote essays about the proposed legislation in order to attend the rally.
Father William D. Hammer, pastor of St. Margaret Mary Church, gave the day’s invocation.