Kentucky currently has no education choice programs. House Bill 134 and Senate Bill 36 would enable individuals and businesses to receive tax credits for donating funds to scholarships for middle- and low-income students to use at private schools or for other educational services.
“Developmentally disabled students would also be eligible to use the scholarships for either non-public school tuition or needed educational services such as occupational therapy, physical therapy or speech therapy,” the Lexington Herald Leader reported in January. “All foster children would be eligible for the scholarships regardless of family income.”
As of late February, H.B. 134 had moved to the Appropriations and Revenue Committee, and S.B. 36 had not yet been taken up for consideration.
Says Kentucky Needs Choice
Richard Innes, an education analyst at the Bluegrass Institute, says Kentucky is far behind the times in providing school choice.
“There’s no question that Kentucky needs more school choice options,” Innes said. “Last year, we passed a charter school bill that is still in the initiation phase. We don’t have any charter schools yet, and we really don’t anticipate seeing them until at least one more school term. We really don’t have any of the school choice options that any of the other states enjoy.”
‘The Gruesome Truth’
Innes says traditional public schools aren’t getting the job done for Kentucky children and the taxpayers who pay for the system.
“The gruesome truth is that only 40 percent of Kentucky’s fourth graders scored proficient in either reading or math,” Innes said. “That’s after more than a quarter-of-a-century of very expensive education reform efforts in our traditional public school system. In eighth grade, it gets much worse, with the worst case being eighth grade math. In 2015, only 28 percent of our eighth graders, overall, were proficient in math.”
‘Aren’t Really Any Drawbacks’
The tax-credit bill has bipartisan support and no noticeable flaws, says Andrew Vandiver, associate director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky.
“The way I see it, there aren’t really any drawbacks to the bill,” Vandiver said. “This is a bill that gives people choice. Legislation like this has been shown to improve educational outcomes across the board in other states. One of the most important issues is that it will save money over time. This legislative session, there is a lot of concern over new tax credits and anything that could potentially cost the state money.”
ESAs Gaining in Popularity
Jason Bedrick, director of policy at EdChoice, says a more expansive choice approach, education savings accounts, is popular in many state legislatures this year.
“There are a lot of states, right now, looking at education savings accounts,” Bedrick said. “The idea behind the ESA is that education takes place in more places than just the school. It’s expanding beyond the traditional classroom and providing families with an opportunity to use their education funds not just for private school tuition but also for certain homeschooling expenses, online courses, educational therapy, tutoring, textbooks, and so on.”
Savannah Edgens ([email protected]) writes from Gainesville, Florida.