School Choice-Kentucky

School choice advocates rally at the Kentucky Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. They are supporting legislation that would give tax credits to people who donate to scholarship funds for special-needs children or those in low-income homes to attend private schools.

(The Center Square) - Kentucky lawmakers have once again filed legislation they say would allow more students in the Bluegrass State to get the education that meets their needs. 

State Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, said his bill, Senate Bill 25, would create Education Opportunity Accounts that could be used in public or private schools across the state. EOAs are can be funded by individuals or businesses who give to Account Granting Organizations. Those groups then divvy the funds to eligible families, and they choose how to use that money for their children’s education. 

Families that make up to 200% of the income threshold to qualify for reduced-price lunches can qualify to receive funding. According to EdChoice Kentucky, a bipartisan group that supports the creation of EOAs in the state, that means about 70% of Kentucky students in kindergarten through high school would qualify. 

The son of immigrants, Alvarado said his parents nearly bankrupted themselves to put him through Christian schools. Now a physician, he said he’s able to put his children in whatever educational program suits them, but he said not everyone has that capability. He said e’s heard from several minority families in Louisville, Lexington and other parts of the state who would like to have a program like this for their children. 

“It helps those who are more in-need than those who don't need it, and I think it balances the playing field a little bit for some of those families,” he said. 

Alvarado noted that this year’s bill includes public school programs. While they were inserted in the first bill he filed years ago, ensuing bills focused only on private schools. 

The accounts would enable families to pay for tuition at private or out-of-district public schools, but they’re not just limited to that. They can also be used to help families buy textbooks and uniforms or get tutoring or online educational support. Students wanting to take advanced placement courses can also use the accounts to pay the fees to earn college credit for their classes. 

The senator added that districts can use accounts to help create pre-kindergarten programs. 

EdChoice Kentucky President Charles Leis said in a statement that a ZIP code or finances should not be an obstacle to a child’s education. 

“This proposal prioritizes Kentucky students, giving parents the financial freedom they need to seek and find the best possible options for their children,” he said. 

Alvarado’s bill has companion legislation, House Bill 149, filed by state Rep. Chad McCoy, R-Bardstown. 

In a statement earlier this month, McCoy, the House whip, said parents deserve to be able to give their children an education that meets their needs. 

“With Education Opportunity Accounts, more Kentucky parents will be empowered,” he said. “This commonsense program will deliver the educational freedom Kentuckians are asking for with the greatest possible benefit to the state and our communities.” 

The bill must be part of the state budget process, Alvarado said. While he’s confident it would pass in the Senate, he’s not as sure about its chances in the House, where members have been more “on the fence” regarding the bill in the past.