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Charles Leis: School choice expands options; Scholarship Tax Credit Program enables them

With National School Choice Week behind us, EdChoice Kentucky is turning our attention to the 2019 General Assembly, which reconvenes next week. In recent days, schools across the Commonwealth and the nation celebrated National School Choice Week and the important role that school choice programs play in expanding options in education.

It is not a secret that Kentucky’s education system has oftentimes been the subject of heated debates in recent years. And we understand that the passion in those debates is focused on ensuring Kentucky students are well-educated and have the tools they need to become well-rounded adults.

However, we cannot continue to allow arguments between adults to hold Kentucky children back from the education they need and deserve. Kentucky offers limited options for families who find that the traditional classroom is not working for their child. Tailoring a child’s education to their unique needs is often the key to success in the classroom. Yet, a family’s income too often leaves them with nowhere to turn when the need arises.

As legislators settle back into Frankfort, legislation to create a Scholarship Tax Credit program in Kentucky will be introduced. This specific school choice program will allow businesses and individuals to make donations to a Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO) and in turn receive a tax credit. The SGO then uses the donations to award needs-based tuition assistance so that students of all backgrounds have the opportunity to attend the school that works best for them.

While we have spent the last week celebrating school choice, critics are still mistaking some key facts. All too often, there are misconceptions floating around that school choice is a threat to the viability of our public school system or that it only helps families from certain socioeconomic backgrounds.

It is important that Kentuckians have the facts about school choice and specifically how a Scholarship Tax Credit Program will impact Kentuckians. Below I address some misconceptions so that we can all see how Scholarship Tax Credits will help!

Myth: Scholarship Tax Credits are a backdoor voucher program.

FACT: Scholarship Tax Credit are different from vouchers in that they use only private money to assist students to attend nonpublic schools. Unlike vouchers, Scholarship Tax Credits allow individuals and businesses to generate privately-funded scholarships for families and dramatically increase the number of families who have choice in education. 

Myth: Scholarship Tax Credits will harm public schools.

FACT: A Scholarship Tax Credit program will take absolutely no money away from public school funding. In fact, more students attending nonpublic schools will mean more resources for students in public schools. School Choice programs exist in the majority of states.  The vast majority of studies found that public schools have actually improved academically in states with school choice programs by helping families find the school that best fits their needs.

Myth: Scholarship Tax Credits will only benefit wealthy Kentuckians.

FACT: This couldn’t be further from the truth. Scholarships from this program will be awarded based on the need of the applicant. Scholarship Granting Organizations use an independent service to establish financial need of applicants. These scholarships could also be used to help disabled students cover the costs of other educational services like occupational therapy. Truly wealthy families already have choice and would not be eligible for this program. 

Myth: Scholarship Tax Credits are fiscally irresponsible.

FACT: Despite common misperception, Scholarship Tax Credits will have a net positive impact on Kentucky’s budget. Since the program is privately funded, education costs will be shifted to participating businesses and individuals. Taxpayers will not contribute a dime.

Myth: Wealthy Kentuckians can turn a profit by donating to a Scholarship Granting Organization.

FACT: Scholarship Tax Credit legislation and recent changes in federal tax policy will expressly prohibit donors from receiving more back on their federal and state taxes than their contribution to a scholarship program. The tax credit is non-refundable and the donor cannot choose the students who receive it. 

A Scholarship Tax Credit program is a commonsense, economical, and an effective way to ensure students in Kentucky have access to the education that best fits their needs. Let’s make 2019 the year we put politics aside to enact a program that will benefit the most vulnerable Kentuckians.

Charles Leis is the President of EdChoice Kentucky.

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