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School choice supporters rally for scholarship tax credit

January 27, 2020 GMT
School choice advocates rally at the Kentucky Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. They are supporting legislation that would give tax credits to people who donate to scholarship funds for special-needs children or those in low-income homes to attend private schools. (AP Photo/Bruce Schreiner)
School choice advocates rally at the Kentucky Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. They are supporting legislation that would give tax credits to people who donate to scholarship funds for special-needs children or those in low-income homes to attend private schools. (AP Photo/Bruce Schreiner)

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — School choice advocates in Kentucky renewed their push Monday to create scholarship tax credits for private schools, a proposal that some public school supporters and the state’s new governor oppose.

Two Republicans on last year’s statewide ballot — state Sen. Ralph Alvarado and Attorney General Daniel Cameron — spoke in favor of legislation to give tax credits to people or businesses donating to scholarship funds for special-needs children or those in low-income homes to attend private schools.

Similar legislation has died in past years in the face of stiff opposition from public school advocates. They reasserted their arguments Monday that scholarship tax credits would hurt public schools.

“Let’s call scholarship tax credits what they really are — private-school vouchers and tax shelters for the wealthy that take money away from public school students across the commonwealth,” Kentucky Education Association President Eddie Campbell said in a statement.

School choice supporters rallied at Kentucky’s Capitol to try to build momentum for the proposal.

Alvarado and Cameron said the scholarship tax credits would give more children from low- and middle-income homes the option to attend schools that best fit their needs — an option that students from wealthier families already enjoy. Kentucky ranks near the bottom nationally in education achievement among low-income students, Alvarado said.

“Scholarship tax credits will unlock the world of opportunities for kids who currently find themselves on the outside of the best schools looking in,” Alvarado said.

Alvarado, a Republican from Winchester, was the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor last year on the ticket with then-Gov. Matt Bevin, who is a staunch school choice supporter. Bevin was defeated by the state’s new governor, Andy Beshear, a Democrat who stresses his support for public schools. Beshear opposes the scholarship tax credit legislation, his office said Monday.

Cameron said a family’s economic status shouldn’t stand in the way of parents choosing the best educational opportunities for their children — whether it’s public, private, parochial or home schools.

“There shouldn’t be a Republican or Democratic designation attached to educational opportunities here in the commonwealth of Kentucky,” the attorney general said. “For the sake of our children, we must all embrace the idea that regardless of background, beliefs, wealth or race, Kentucky children should have access to an education that meets their needs.”

Campbell responded that closing the achievement gap is a legitimate issue but said scholarship tax credits aren’t among the solutions. He denounced the proposed tax credits as tax loopholes “cloaked as charity for poor children” at a time when the state needs more revenue, not less.

The state is looking for additional money to support public schools, and scholarship tax credits would worsen the problem, he said.

Under the proposal, up to $25 million would be set aside to be credited back to donors for contributing to private school scholarship funds, Campbell said.

“These private-school vouchers benefit the few at the expense of the many,” Campbell added. “Haven’t we all had enough of that?”