Kentucky has been gripped by passionate debates over whether lawmakers should bring school choice to our state. But here is the truth: we already have school choice in Kentucky. In fact, it has been here for a long time.
Wealthy and upper middle-class parents have the financial means to move to their preferred public school district or to send their children to a non-public school. There is nothing wrong with parents being proactive when choosing their children’s school. They are simply doing what is best for their children. The injustice comes from the fact that most students do not have options and are simply placed in a one-size-fits-all system based solely on their income or ZIP code.
It doesn’t have to be this way. School choice is a reality for millions of low and middle-income families across the United States. More than 30 states have adopted policies that empower parents to choose the classroom that works best for their children.
In particular, scholarship tax credit programs have existed for more than 20 years and are currently helping families in 17 states. Scholarship tax credit programs grant donors a nonrefundable tax credit for donations to qualified scholarship granting organizations. These organizations offer scholarships to low- and middle-income families to send their students to the school that is the best fit for their individual needs.
Arizona passed the first scholarship tax credit program in 1997. Since that time, thousands of students have benefited from the Arizona program and others like it. On the other hand, an entire class of Kentucky students passed from kindergarten through high school without the same types of options. The opportunities lost during this period of time cannot be understated.
Last year, a young Florida woman named Denisha Merriweather garnered national attention. As a child, Denisha struggled greatly in school. After failing third grade twice in a public school, Denisha was able to get into a non-public school through Florida’s scholarship tax credit program. The school fit her needs and she became the first member of her family to graduate from high school and college. She is now on track to get a master’s degree.
Were there students like Denisha Merriweather in Kentucky schools over the past 20 years? Are there students now who could enjoy a similar level of success if only given the opportunity? The answer to both questions is without a doubt yes.
EdChoice Kentucky will be releasing scholarship tax credit explainers over the next few weeks. The explainers will outline a set of policies that would help Kentucky become a national leader when it comes to choice in education. The fact that Kentucky is so far behind necessitates bold action. A modest school choice program helping a small number of students will not achieve the type of results that Kentucky families need. Instead, Kentucky leaders need to be bold and adopt a scholarship tax credit program that helps as many children as possible. Our students cannot afford anything less.