A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Commentary: Scholarship tax credits represent responsible approach to expanding opportunity

By Charles Leis

Thousands of Kentucky families have new reason to be optimistic about their children’s education and future: Renewed budget and tax reform negotiations offer the General Assembly another opportunity to help Kentucky students by establishing a Scholarship Tax Credit program.


When the final budget and revenue bills were released without a Scholarship Tax Credit proposal—I was disappointed. After months of meetings with legislators who earnestly committed to extending educational opportunity to everyone, thousands of calls and emails to Frankfort from constituents, and our largest School Choice Week rally ever—we believed that this was the year.

We still do, and with the Governor’s vetoes, lawmakers have a chance to put Kentucky students first and pass Scholarship Tax Credits.

Across the country, Scholarship Tax Credit programs have demonstrated unparalleled success in opening up new opportunities to students from low- and middle-income families. States as diverse as Florida, New Hampshire, and Georgia have seen such high demand that they have had to consider raising the caps on their programs to allow more students to participate.

In those states a student’s zip code and socioeconomic background are no longer the controlling factors for their education. Kentucky students—no matter their background—deserve the same opportunity to access an education that best meets their needs.

Scholarship Tax Credits are not vouchers. They do not take money from public schools, which are likely to see the highest funding levels on a per-student basis in Kentucky history in the final budget. Instead, this program encourages individuals and businesses to fund scholarships that would help Kentucky families provide their children with the most precious gift—the right education.

The right education makes all the difference—whether it’s in a public or non-public setting—for young people entering a competitive economic environment. Aside from being the morally and socially responsible thing to do, the proposal supported by EdChoice KY is fiscally responsible.

Yes, that’s right. Kentucky’s non-public schools already save the Commonwealth hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Extending educational choice to more Kentucky students will cost the Commonwealth’s taxpayers nothing. In fact, some states have seen revenue increases after establishing these programs.

On that point, it is important to highlight that the proposal also includes important guard rails to ensure that donors funding these scholarships cannot make money for themselves from it. And the reality is—to climb out of the fiscal hole, we will need another generation of talented, well-educated workers that will get Kentucky’s economy growing.

Scholarship Tax Credits can help. Study after study—45 in all—has shown better academic outcomes for public and nonpublic students alike following the establishment of school choice programs. It makes sense—the right education can be a life-changing experience.

So, let’s recap on how a Scholarship Tax Credit program can help Kentucky students.

First, it levels the playing field for all Kentucky students by ensuring that low- and middle-income families can access the same educational opportunity as upper income ones. Second, studies demonstrate such programs are associated with increases in academic achievement for students in both public and nonpublic settings. Third, it delivers equality and increased performance without harming public schools and without costing taxpayers any money.

With all this in mind, I’d like to believe the General Assembly’s failure to adopt this fiscally responsible policy was simply an oversight.

Now the General Assembly has a chance to revisit this innovative program that will provide Kentucky families with options. Frankfort must adopt a Scholarship Tax Credit program in the coming days.

Across Kentucky, families are watching, hopeful legislators will enact sound policy that puts children first.

Charles Leis is president of EdChoice KY

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One Comment

  1. Marv Dunn says:

    I have no dog in this fight but I lived in Arizona for many years and they have a similar program. From what I heard there, the money seems to flow to the more well to do kids and not the poor and lower middle class students. Arizona is a deep red state, the GOP has ruled for years there and I’m sure the Koch Brothers approve. Just like charter schools, there is enough states with similar plans and a bipartisan study should be made of those states programs before we try and reinvent the wheel. The last two days of the legislative session is no time to pass any such bill.

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