A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Critics of Kentucky voucher program say the plan would siphon funds from public schools

By Nadia Ramlagan
Public News Service

Some Kentucky lawmakers are proposing a statewide voucher program based on tax credits, so families can send their kids to private schools.

House Bill 149 would give donors like major corporations a special-interest tax break for giving money to privately controlled organizations that use the funds to pay kids’ private-school tuition.

Some 70% of Kentucky children would be eligible for a proposed private-school tax credit program recently introduced by state legislators. (Photo from Adobe Stock, via PNS)

Critics argue it would drain $25 million from the state budget in its first year alone.

Jeni Bolander, a teacher at Fayette County Public Schools, said she understands why some families chose private schools but thinks public tax money shouldn’t be used to pay for them.

“You know, outside of schools, we need roads and hospitals,” Bolander acknowledged. “And yet, inside of schools, we’re seeing that we’ve had textbooks cut for the past two years, we’ve had no professional development funds, I think Title I got reduced. It’s just a lot.”

The funding gap between students in wealthy and poor districts in the Commonwealth is now almost $3,000 per student, largely driven by shrinking state investments in education along with an increasing reliance on local tax dollars.

Anna Baumann, deputy director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, explained the bill includes a provision that would allow the size of the tax credit to grow by 25%, each year that 90% of the money is used.

“When you do the math on that and kind of look out a few years, we can see that, for instance, in just three years, we’ll be spending more on the program than the state budgeted for education technology across the Commonwealth this year,” Baumann observed.

Baumann pointed out within 10 years, the program could divert $1 billion from the state budget into private schools.

States like Florida have passed similar laws.

Baumann noted last year, private-school tax credits cost Floridians nearly $900 million. Meanwhile, districts are struggling to meet basic needs, and maintain after-school services and staffing levels.

“And so, when we’re taking that kind of money out of the General Fund, and therefore out of the ability of legislators to invest in our K-through-12 schools, we’re leaving those schools with less and less resources,” Baumann contended.

She added the tax break donors would receive is 19 times greater than the state’s charitable-deduction rules for giving to nonprofits. At 95 cents for every dollar donated up to $1 million, Baumann stated it would be the most generous tax credit offered in Kentucky.

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  1. Pam says:

    I am for tax credits, public school are getting political, parents know better what there children need, this will help even poorer families be able to get a better education for there children. I wish there had been more private schools when I was in school, thank goodness my parents moved so I was able to go to a smaller and better school.

  2. Richard Innes says:

    A few points of order concerning Anna Baumann’s comments about Florida.

    Ms. Baumann says private-school tax credits are costing Floridians nearly $900 million.

    If that were a big problem, you would think that overall public school performance in Florida would have dropped well behind Kentucky, right?

    Here are some actual Scale Score comparisons from the NAEP Grade 4 Math Assessments for 2003 and 2019 for Florida and Kentucky public schools only.

    For all public school students, Florida scored 5 points above Kentucky in 2003 and in 2019 scored 7 points higher.

    White performance stayed even, with Florida scoring 12 points higher in both years.

    Black students are where the school choice programs in Florida might really have helped. In 2003 Florida’s Blacks were essentially tied with Kentucky’s with an insignificant 1-point score difference. Flash forward to 2019 and Florida blacks in public schools now score 10 points higher than Kentucky’s blacks.

    Kentucky could use more of what Florida has, not less.

    One more thing, according to the US Census Bureau’s latest Elementary and Secondary Education Tables, which show funding for all the states, in the 2018 Fiscal Year (essentially the 2017-18 school year), Florida’s total per pupil revenue was only $10,715 while Kentucky’s was notably higher at $12,444. Florida is getting better bang for the buck, at least for Grade 4 NAEP, than Kentucky has posted while spending notably less.

    So, how is that again about how Florida’s school choice programs are supposed to be a problem for public schools?

  3. Richard Innes says:

    One more point. The reporter works for Public News Service. PNS is quite open about the fact that they receive funding from the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy. I think that very important piece of information should be available to the readers of KY Forward, too.

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