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HB 384 – Putting Families First13 Feb

David Floyd

Representative David Floyd

Tommy Thompson

Representative Tommy Thompson

House Bill 384 sponsored by Rep. Tommy Thompson (D) and Rep. David Floyd (R) is a unique opportunity to help parents exercise their right to choose the educational environment most appropriate for their children. It will also benefit all elementary and high school students in Kentucky. Without your help, it will receive little attention during this session of the General Assembly.  Please ask your representative to co-sponsor the bill by calling 1.800.372.7181 and leaving a message for him or her.

When passed, individuals and businesses could contribute money to either a 501(c)3 tuition assistance organization or to the Commonwealth School Improvement Fund and receive a tax credit to offset their state tax liability. Tuition assistance organizations would then provide financial assistance to children attending nonpublic schools.  Contributions to the Commonwealth School Improvement Fund would be used to support innovation within the public school system. The legislation caps the tax credits at $50 million allowing for a total of $100 million being available to help students; $70 million would flow to support public education; and the remaining $30 million would be available for tuition assistance for students attending nonpublic schools.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2229) teaches the following:

  • Parents have the right to choose a school for their children which corresponds to their own personal convictions;
  • This right is fundamental; and
  • Public authorities have the duty of guaranteeing this parental right and ensuring concrete conditions for its exercise.

In Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (#72) our U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have written:

Government, through such means as tax credits and publicly funded scholarships, should help provide resources for parents, especially those of modest means, to exercise this basic right without discrimination.

The passage of HB 384 would help lower and middle income families afford nonpublic school tuition for their children. Thus, this bill provides parents with the opportunity to choose an educational setting that is most appropriate for their children regardless of their income or ZIP code.

The public school system would also benefit from the additional funds generated through contributions to the Commonwealth School Improvement Fund.  Further, studies have shown that states with similar legislation have saved millions of dollars as it relates to public education.  For example; Florida saved approximately $39 million by virtue of its tax credit program.  The savings generated by a tax credit program in Kentucky could be reinvested in the public school system.

Enacting HB 384 promotes the common good by giving all students an opportunity for a better educational experience. Please contact your member of the Kentucky House of Representatives and encourage support for HB 384.

Photo: Kentucky Legislative Research Commission

 

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Reforming Public Education and Ending Poverty26 Jan

Nearly everyone can agree that our current education system is not meeting the needs of Kentucky students.  ID-10069170The disagreements usually arise when it comes time to propose a solution.  Opponents of school choice legislation often argue that the solution is reforming the public school system or ending poverty.  The Catholic Conference of Kentucky supports efforts to improve the public school system and to provide for the poor.  Yet, focusing on these two issues ignores the plight of children who need solutions now.

President Lyndon B. Johnson launched the War on Poverty over 50 years ago.  Since that time federal, state, and local governments have engaged in various efforts to alleviate poverty and reform the public school system.  While there are often debates about the success of these efforts, it cannot be disputed that there are far too many people still living in poverty today.  It also cannot be disputed that there are children who are not having their needs met by the public school system.  Since 1970, inflation adjusted public school spending has more than doubled.  Over the same period, achievement of students at the end of high school has stagnated.

Therefore, telling parents in desperate need of educational options that they simply need to wait for politicians to tinker with the system is insulting.  Our children need solutions now.  If the public school system is not working for a child, his or her parents should have the right to send their child to a different school.  Unfortunately, the poor and working class do not have the means to exercise this right because they often cannot afford the tuition at nonpublic schools.

A tuition assistance tax credit would provide educational opportunities to families that do not currently exist under Kentucky law.  The legislation would encourage contributions to organizations that provide tuition assistance to families making under $60,000.00 a year.  This would make a nonpublic education obtainable for families who might not otherwise be able to afford the tuition.

In conclusion, the Catholic Conference of Kentucky supports efforts to improve the public education system and to end poverty.  However, Kentucky families do not have another 50 years to spare.  Our children need educational options now.

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Kentucky has School Choice (For Some)06 Jan

Capitol DomeWe have school choice in Kentucky.  Wealthy and upper middle class parents have the financial means to send their children to nonpublic schools or to move to a different school district when the one that they are assigned to is not meeting their children’s needs.  Yet, the vast majority of middle class and working class families do not have these options.  In some limited instances, children of modest means have the opportunity to choose amongst public schools.  For example; Jefferson County Public Schools allow for choice amongst its schools.  Yet, even these programs have limitations that can leave a child’s future “up to chance” if they are unable to get into their preferred public school.

In summary, we have school choice in Kentucky for some families.  The well-off have an unfettered right to send their children to the school that best meets their needs.  It is a roll of the dice for everyone else.

Fortunately, the Kentucky General Assembly has the power to provide middle class and working class families with more options.  A tuition assistance tax credit is the place to start.  The tax credit would encourage donations to organizations that provide tuition assistance to families who wish to send their children to nonpublic schools.

Similar programs are available across the country.  States that have adopted these programs have seen significant increases in the funds available for tuition assistance.  As a result, more families have the opportunity to choose where their children go to school.  Even more important, parents are pleased with the results.  In Georgia, one survey found that 98.6 percent of these parents were either “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with the decision to send their children to a nonpublic school using the tuition assistance program.

January 6th is the beginning of the 2015 session of the General Assembly.  It is time to ask your state representative and state senator to take action on this important legislation.  All Kentucky families deserve school choice regardless of their income or ZIP Code.

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Opposition to a Tuition Assistance Tax Credit23 Dec

ID-10069170Andrew Vandiver, Associate Director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, was recently interviewed by Gilbert Corsey of WDRB News with regard to the tuition assistance tax credit proposal.   The story also featured Jonathan Lowe, Director of Strategy for Jefferson County Public Schools.  Mr. Lowe stated that JCPS is opposed to the tax credit because it would take public funding away from public schools.  The report also noted that JCPS has hired a lobbying firm to oppose the legislation.  It appears that there is a misunderstanding on the part of JCPS as to how the tax credit would work.

The tax credit would not take away money from the public school system.  The tax credit would actually allow the public school system to spend more per student.  It is simple math.  The cost of public education goes up when there are more children in the public school system. The easiest way to demonstrate this point is by looking at the issue from a statewide perspective.  Catholic and other nonpublic schools are currently educating more than 70,000 students, saving Kentucky taxpayers approximately $700 million per school year, or $1.4 billion every budget biennium.  Imagine if the nonpublic schools stopped operating tomorrow and the Kentucky General Assembly had to find an additional $1.4 billion to fund public education due to the influx of new students.  This would cripple the public school system.

It should be clear that nonpublic schools are not adversaries of the public school system.  Instead, nonpublic schools provide an important service to the Commonwealth by sharing in the cost of educating Kentucky’s children.  Allowing more students to attend nonpublic schools via a tuition assistance tax credit would ultimately leave the public school system with more money.

Of course, focusing on funding misses the big picture.  The educational needs of children should be of central importance in this debate.  While some children will do well within a public school setting, others unique needs require that their parents look elsewhere.  Passing a tuition assistance tax credit would give thousands of Kentucky families the opportunity to enroll their children in schools that meet their unique needs.  Whether the school that best meets a particular child’s needs is public or nonpublic is secondary.  The achievement of children should trump all other considerations.

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School Choice and the Constitution11 Dec

Capitol DomeOne common concern with regard to school choice legislation is that it will violate the U.S. Constitution by enabling children to attend religiously affiliated schools.  While this concern is understandable, the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected arguments that school choice legislation amounts to an unlawful entanglement between church and state.  Specifically, the U.S. Supreme Court recently dismissed an attack on a tuition assistance tax credit similar to the one proposed under Kentucky House Bill 141.  Challenges to tax credits under state constitutions have met this same result and it is expected that the Kentucky Supreme Court would reach a similar conclusion.

Even though tax credits have been upheld under the U.S. Constitution, and state high courts have followed suit, there are still some who are skeptical of private school choice.  For many, this is based on the notion that the government should not take any actions which would enable a child to attend a religiously affiliated school.  However, there are a couple of facts that should be considered by individuals holding this viewpoint.

First and foremost, tuition assistance tax credits support school choice for parents rather than promoting religion.  The educational needs of children are of central importance.  Thus, while most children will do well within a public school setting, others unique needs require that their parents look elsewhere.  Whether the school that best meets their needs is religious or secular is secondary.  We know from extensive studies on the topic that school choice improves academic outcomes.  It is clear that when parents have the right to choose, children win.

Second, public assistance for religiously affiliated schools has a long history in the United States.   Unfortunately, this relationship was interrupted by a rise in nativism during the late 19th century.  Led by Senator James Blaine of Maine, there was a popular movement to amend the U.S. Constitution in order prohibit aid to religiously affiliated schools due to a fear that Catholic immigrants would want government funding for their parochial schools.  Of course, the supporters of this movement were not attempting to remove religion from education.  Nondenominational Protestantism would have remained securely entrenched in public education even if the amendment was successful.  The proposal was merely intended to marginalize Catholic education.  Although Senator Blaine’s efforts were ultimately unsuccessful at the federal level, many states followed his lead and adopted constitutional prohibitions with regard to funding for “sectarian schools” (a/k/a Catholic schools). These amendments are commonly known as “Blaine Amendments.”  Fortunately, some courts have recently recognized this dark moment in our nation’s history for what it was and have not been inclined to strike down tuition assistance tax credit legislation.

In conclusion, there is neither a constitutional nor a historical basis for rejecting tuition assistance tax credit legislation.  Kentuckians are free to adopt this important legislation in order to ensure that all families have a choice when it comes to their children’s education.

Latest news

HB 384 – Putting Families First
House Bill 384 sponsored by Rep. Tommy Thompson (D) and Rep. David Floyd (R) is a unique opportunity to help parents exercise their right to choose the educational environment most appropriate for their children. It will also benefit all elementary and high school students in Kentucky. Without your help, it will receive little attention during […]

Reforming Public Education and Ending Poverty
Nearly everyone can agree that our current education system is not meeting the needs of Kentucky students.  The disagreements usually arise when it comes time to propose a solution.  Opponents of school choice legislation often argue that the solution is reforming the public school system or ending poverty.  The Catholic Conference of Kentucky supports efforts […]

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