With several hundred students from private schools looking on in the cold Thursday morning outside the state Capitol, several public officials touted a proposal to offer tax deductions to provide school scholarships.
The event was a rally at the Capitol to celebrate school choice and National School Choice Week.
House Majority Leader John “Bam” Carney, R-Campbellsville, told the crowd that he will file a bill in early February that would grant a generous tax credit to those who donate money for student financial aid at private schools.
He noted that this will mark the third year he has tried to get the legislation through the General Assembly and expressed disappointment that opponents view the issue as private schools versus public schools.
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“Shame on those folks,” he said. “This is not a competition between traditional public schools, private schools, whatever. This is what is best for Kentucky families, Kentucky’s children. This is all it is about.”
Andrew Vandiver of Walton, a board member of the advocacy group EdChoice Kentucky, organized the rally.
Vandiver said the legislation would allow individuals or businesses to receive a tax credit from state taxes when they contribute to qualified non-profit organizations that provide financial aid to lower-income families who want to send their children to non-public schools.
Vandiver said the bill is expected to generate $25 million to help about 7,000 families.
The tax credit would amount to up to 95 percent of the contribution. “You donate $10,000, you get $9,500 credit,” he said.
He said the tax break would be capped at $1 million for any individual or entity.
“We estimate the average donation will be a couple thousand dollars,” he said.
The scholarships would be used to send children to accredited non-public schools or help children with special needs for therapy.
The measure has never gotten out of a legislative chamber’s committee, “but we are optimistic this year,” he said. He acknowledged that the revenue bill would have to receive at least 60 percent of the vote, instead of a majority in each chamber, to pass since lawmakers are not scheduled to pass a two-year state budget this year.
Stephanie Winkler, president of the Kentucky Education Association, said her group has “a strong belief that school choice already exists in Kentucky.”
“Our organization fights hard for for the commonwealth’s constitutionally-mandated system of common schools that allow any child, no matter their abilities, to have the right to a high quality education,” Winkler said. “The local public schools of these ‘school choice’ activists would benefit greatly from the energy and financial support they give to this cause.”
Also speaking for the legislation at the rally were state Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, and state Treasurer Allison Ball.
Alvarado, who will be sponsoring the measure in the Senate, said a scholarship tax credit program will help Kentucky rise in its ranking of 42nd in the nation in education for low-income students.
“There are many great public schools but not every school can meet the needs of every family. We need to allow the mechanisms to find the right school for each student,” said Alvarado.
Ball said the measure “helps get students into schools they need to go to.”
Kendra McGuire, assistant superintendent of schools for the Catholic Diocese of Covington, said the public should have the right to choose what schools to send their students.
“I don’t think money should be a barrier to that,” she said.