February 5, 2021

By Charles Leis
Published in The Kentucky New Era, Feb. 2, 2021

Supporting public education or school choice is not an either/or situation – both public and nonpublic schools can thrive if we give parents the opportunity to make choices about the resources their child needs.

Our organization—EdChoice Kentucky— agrees with the majority of KY voters that Kentucky parents should have the power to choose what education opportunities meet their student’s needs. COVID19 has only increased the need for financial support to cover things like tutoring, moving to a public or non-public school with safe, in-person instruction for a child struggling with NTI, online learning programs and more.

Thankfully, the Kentucky General Assembly is considering legislation to create Education Opportunity Accounts (EOAs), a form of educational choice that is a great fit for thousands of students. It recognizes the quality work many Kentucky schools are already doing while empowering parents with a choice to meet their student’s unique education needs.

Under an EOA program, private donations are distributed on a means-tested basis to cover extensive educational services including tuition and fees for attendance at out-of-district public or non-public schools, online learning programs, tutoring services, career and technical courses, dual-credit options, and more.

Opponents of EOAs continue to blur the facts and use deception (calling private donations a form of vouchers, which is patently false) to stop the program.

EOAs are a direct investment in Kentucky students, including public school students. The program will be funded through private donations, not the public education budget. The tax credit for private donations will be offset from the general fund. This doesn’t cost our public school system a single dollar, despite misleading claims to the contrary.

EOAs are a direct investment in students, not lost revenue. The return on investment for a program that helps more students succeed will benefit KY for generations to come.

Projections showing an EOA program growing to nearly $2 billion over 20 years are completely unrealistic. EOA legislation begins with a $25 million limit which only grows in future years if donors sustain it. Even still, in Florida, the tax credit program has grown to just under $900 million in 20 years. Considering that Florida has five times the population of Kentucky, it is not plausible that Kentucky’s program would more than double the size of Florida’s program during that same period. Again, opponents of giving parents better choices are simply trying to scare state representatives and maintain a status quo that is letting too many families down.

The most pernicious false claim is that EOAs will negatively impact public-school students. A fair review of other states’ programs clearly shows that EOAs will actually help Kentucky students in public schools. Of the 26 studies that examine the effects of educational choice programs on public schools, 24 found positive effects. A rising tide lifts all boats, and EOAs seek to raise Kentucky’s education tide.

Finally, it is an outright lie that EOAs will only benefit wealthy families. Financial assistance will be based on a family’s demonstrated need, just like many other aid programs. The more a family makes, the less aid they are eligible to receive. Further, lower income students must receive a majority of the aid.  The legislation specifically prohibits program donors from receiving EOA funds and from making a profit off their donation. This program benefits students who need a different education option, and the program would not discriminate based on any factor.

How about diversity? Public opinion surveys show that black and Hispanic families are among the strongest supporters of educational choice! We would expect a great many minority students to benefit from an EOA, if their parents decide a better education option is needed.

The main school choice program in Florida is nearly 70 percent minorities and the average student comes from a household with an income of just $26,578 per year. In Indiana, 42% of students using the educational choice program are non-white, whereas only 21% percent of the general population is non-white. Obviously, minority families in Kentucky would benefit as they have in other states.

With overwhelming evidence of success and high voter demand for educational choice in Kentucky, I can’t help but wonder: why are opponents afraid of more parents choosing the education that best fits their child’s needs?  We can’t let politics get in the way of what’s best for students.

We urge support for House Bill 149 and pray our legislators see the wisdom in unlocking new doors for thousands of Kentucky kids who need our help.