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Joseph Kurtz: HB 149 offers Kentuckians the right to choose the education their children deserve

Former State Representative Jim Wayne authored an opinion piece calling on Catholics to oppose House Bill 149, which would create an educational choice program for Kentucky families. Rep. Wayne and I share a concern for ensuring that public policy serves the common good, and I appreciate him offering his views. Nevertheless, his arguments against House Bill 149 suffer from several factual errors and unfortunately reflect a worldview that undervalues the urgent need for Kentucky families to have more educational options.

Kentucky already has educational choice. Families with financial means choose the public or non-public school their children attend and can afford any other services they may need. This reality has become even more apparent over the last year during the COVID-19 crisis.

To address this inequity, Kentucky’s bishops are supporting House Bill 149, which would create an Education Opportunity Account program (“EOA”). An EOA program provides need-based assistance to families to help cover the cost of a variety of educational services. Tuition assistance for families who wish to attend a non-public school is only one aspect of the bill. Education Opportunity Accounts also could be used by K-12 public and non-public school students to cover tutoring services, therapies for students with special needs, career and technical training, dual-credit college courses and much more. The program would be funded through private donations.

Rep. Wayne’s argument that EOA’s are targeted at well-off families is false. All program participants would be means-tested. The more a family makes, the less assistance they are eligible to receive. Wealthy families are excluded from the program altogether. Further, House Bill 149 explicitly states that a majority of the aid must go to low-income families by using the criteria for the National School Lunch Program.

A majority of states have passed similar educational choice programs. Those states have seen both an expansion of choices for families and improved outcomes among public school students. Contrary to Rep. Wayne’s claims, there is little evidence that these programs harm anyone. On the other hand, there are countless stories of students whose lives have been changed for the better by the simple act of giving them the same choices already enjoyed by wealthy families.

The importance of passing House Bill 149 goes beyond policy. The Catholic faith teaches that education is the “primary right” of parents. It is the government’s role to support parents in the exercise of this right, not to replace them.  This value is shared by many beyond the Catholic faith. The coalition supporting House Bill 149 includes parents, educators and advocates from many different faiths and backgrounds.

Kentucky will end its current legislative session by passing an approximately $12 billion one-year budget. Kentucky’s Catholic bishops support many aspects of the budget that prioritize helping our most vulnerable families. This includes ensuring that public school students are receiving the services that they need. Passing House Bill 149 in no way detracts from those other priorities. Instead, it represents a step towards a more equitable future in which a lack of financial resources no longer denies a family the opportunity to give their children the education that they need and deserve.

The Most Reverend Joseph E. Kurtz, D.D., is the 
Archbishop of Louisville

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One Comment

  1. Scott Woodward says:

    I support hb149

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