A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Glenna Bevin: Scholarship tax credits expand education opportunities for all Kentucky’s children


During the next few weeks, our General Assembly has a remarkable opportunity to give thousands of Kentucky children a new path to success by voting in favor of two bills that will help create a scholarship tax credit program. House Bill 205 and Senate Bill 118 will go a long way towards helping children in the Commonwealth reach their dreams.

Families like the Hendersons in South Louisville know all too well the power this scholarship tax program would have in transforming the futures of Kentucky’s children.

In 2015, Daniel and Denise Henderson decided to become foster parents of medically fragile children and those with a history of trauma. Not long after they were approved in the summer of 2016, they welcomed a set of three elementary school-age siblings to their home — a 10-year-old girl (Elle) and her two brothers, ages eight and five. The two oldest were victims of trafficking, and all had sustained trauma.

Glenna Bevin

The Hendersons provided the stable, happy and safe home environment the children needed and were able to help them focus on school. Elle struggled in her fifth-grade class at the time, and as they discussed middle school options, Denise and Daniel were surprised when Elle told them she wanted to attend a private school.

While they wanted to support her choice, being a child in foster care put significant limits on Elle’s education options. Elle asked to talk to the judge herself, and after she did, the judge granted her permission to attend the school of her choice. Denise and Daniel stretched their resources to pay the tuition for the private school, and Elle flourished.

By the time the next school year came around, the Hendersons had adopted the sibling group — and Elle’s younger brothers, Shawn and Josh, wanted to follow their sister to private school. The school made Elle feel safe and loved, and though the Hendersons were convinced the school was the best fit for their children, tuition for three children was unattainable.

After researching their options, they learned about School Choice Scholarships, an organization in Louisville that grants low-income students the opportunity to attend the school of their choice. The Hendersons were awarded scholarships, and the children were overjoyed to be able to attend the school they chose together.

The Henderson kids are thriving in a school that fits them, but thousands — perhaps tens of thousands — of children across the Commonwealth do not have access to that kind of opportunity. In Louisville alone, School Choice Scholarships currently has more than 6,000 children on its waiting list.

Through no fault of their own, many minority and low-income families disproportionally find themselves in the lowest performing schools. Countless parents need access to schools that are specifically suited to their children’s educational and emotional needs but either cannot not afford private school tuition or are unable to move to another school district.

Simply put: school choice already exists in Kentucky, but it is currently only available to the wealthy.

As a mother of nine, I know all children have unique strengths, challenges, and interests. A one-size-fits-all approach to parenting does not work well. The same is true for education: families need options.

HB 205 and SB 118 propose to create a scholarship tax program that would help close this significant gap in opportunity. The program encourages individuals and businesses to donate to non-profit organizations, like School Choice Scholarships, that assist lower-income families with tuition for the non-public schools of their choice.

Through this program, donors would receive a 95 percent tax credit for their donation. For every $100 donated, a $95 tax credit is received. No public funds are involved, as private donations alone are used to increase parental options. Eighteen other states have similar scholarship tax programs in place, making it clear they value the role of the family in education. It is time for Kentucky to do the same!

I am imploring the General Assembly to vote yes on HB 205 and SB 118. Education is key to breaking the cycle of poverty, and zip code should not determine a student’s academic success. We cannot continue upholding a status quo that favors only families with means, and a scholarship tax credit policy would be a great step toward improving access to education opportunities for all Kentucky’s children.

Glenna Bevin is First Lady of Kentucky.  


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3 Comments

  1. Marv Dunn says:

    I admit to having no expertise in this field but I did live in Arizona where this tax credit program has gone on for some while and I keep up with their local news. It was enacted by Republicans in a deep red state era. Sound familiar? (Fortunately the last election shows the Arizona may be turning purple.) The big complaint seems to be that the program is sold on the idea it helps the more unfortunate. The reality is that it siphons money from the public schools and the better-off kids wind up with the money and a private school education. A lot of people are unhappy. This plan should be dissected and looked at carefully. There isn’t enough time in this session to do. Kentucky shouldn’t try to reinvent the wheel.

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