Mark Guilfoyle: Workforce development challenge requires effort; start with scholarship tax credits

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In Northern Kentucky, and across the Commonwealth, we face a workforce development challenge that inhibits our ability to attract new business and undermines the competitiveness of existing businesses in our state.

As a leader with the Kentucky Workforce Center and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, I often hear the same concern — what is the Commonwealth doing to address the record number of job openings and the lowest workforce participation rates in history, and what does it mean for our future competitiveness?

These are difficult questions that require aggressive action to stem the bleeding and to change the trajectory. As a state, we need to do more to give students, our future workforce, the opportunity to succeed and realize their ambitions—whatever they may be. That starts with a solid education that provides the basic skills necessary to hold down a job and to compete for the jobs of tomorrow in a rapidly evolving economy.

Often, primary and secondary education experiences form the foundation for success. For some families in Kentucky, finding the environment—public or private—that best matches the needs of their children is easy. For too many others, educational opportunities remain outside their price range.

Businessmen and women are the first to understand the value of an educated workforce. Our state should provide more ways for businesses to give back to students and invest in their futures.  After all, the future business climate of Kentucky relies on the students of today.

If Kentucky establishes a scholarship tax credit program, businesses can play a bigger role in addressing this challenge, leveling the playing field to ensure more families can provide their children with the education that best meets their needs.

Scholarship tax credits would encourage local businesses to finance scholarship granting organizations, which offer tuition assistance to lower- and middle-income families, allowing more students to access their preferred education. Getting each student to their best fit school can be the difference between graduating or not. A tax credit program can empower businesses to get more students into the right environment.

Scholarship tax credits are a more efficient allocation of limited resources. Despite claims, a tax credit is not a financial windfall for businesses.  Donors do not financially benefit from this program.  Instead, a scholarship tax credit program encourages businesses to put dollars directly into the hands of local students to access educational opportunities previously reserved for wealthy families.

Further, the scholarship granting organizations funded by business credits know the schools, know the local culture, and are part of the community. It is why they are so effective at connecting students with the environment that is best for them. These programs have been impressively successful in so many other states. Across the spectrum, Kentucky students deserve the same opportunity.

Businesses across Kentucky must raise their voices on this issue and urge legislators to empower us to better serve our communities.

Northern Kentucky attorney Mark Guilfoyle is a board member for EdChoice KY. This column first appeared on the EdChoice website.

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