CCK promotes education opportunity accounts for school choice in General Assembly

Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.

This year could see changes for educational choice in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, if the Catholic Conference of Kentucky and others can garner enough momentum for bills promoting Education Opportunity Accounts.

Rather than focusing on scholarship tax credits, as in past years, House Bill 149 and Senate Bill 25, favor Education Opportunity Accounts. If the bills are passed, individuals and businesses can donate to non-profit Account Granting Organizations (AGOs), who are authorized to receive donations under the program and will provide financial assistance for educational services. This will allow those who apply to the program an opportunity to make choices that wouldn’t otherwise be accessible to them.

Andrew Vandiver, associate director, CCK, said they took feedback last year from families, policy makers and educators to craft a bill that would be “more inclusive and addressing the needs of the specific moment we’re in.”

“If the General Assembly had passed educational choice bills in the past, there would be a resource for families that are struggling right now,” said Mr. Vandiver. “With COVID-19, families really need more flexibility than ever, and this would help address that. But because there is no educational choice program in Kentucky, there’s very few additional resources right now for families who are struggling.”

In the first week after the bills were released, an unprecedented number of sponsors provided their support. House Bill 149 was filed by Rep. Chad McCoy and is co-sponsored, from counties in the Diocese of Covington, by Rep. Kim Banta (Kenton and Boone Counties), Rep. Kim Moser (Kenton and Campbell Counties), Rep. Joe Fischer (Campbell County), Rep. Adam Koenig (Kenton and Boone Counties), Rep. William Lawrence (Bracken, Fleming and Mason Counties), Rep. Savannah Maddox (Grant and Kenton Counties), Rep. Felicia Rabourne (Carroll and Gallatin Counties) and Rep. Sal Santoro (Boone County).

Senate Bill 25 was filed by Senator Ralph Alvarado and co-sponsored by Senator Damon Thayer of Scott, Kenton and Grant Counties.

The House and Senate are set to vote on the bills in February. The big difference in this bill, compared to scholarship tax credits in the past, is it’s much more flexible and inclusive, said Mr. Vandiver. Rather than donations given to non-profits merely providing tuition assistance, donations could provide many different types of educational services.

“There’s parts of the state that may not have a non-public school close by, and their educational needs are different in that community,” said Mr. Vandiver. “If you have students in that area who want access to college courses that they might not otherwise have been able to afford it, you could set up this assistance for that; it could also do tutoring, special needs services … it’s really customizable as far as how the funds could be used, it depends on the needs of the family and also the mission of the non-profit organization.”

Mr. Vandiver said these are crucial bills for Kentucky in the school choice issue. “We have an opportunity to do something moving forward that’s going to help families,” he said. He thinks that the inclusivity of the bills will make them more likely to pass.

“We have champions in the legislature, we know the public wants this. We did a public opinion survey this fall and I believe it was 77 percent of Kentuckians support educational choice. It’s bipartisan … so you really can’t go wrong by supporting this. … We strongly believe that the votes are there in the General Assembly. The biggest challenge is there is a lot going on this session and there’s a lot being demanded of the lawmakers. So we’re just asking people, if you have a student in your life, or you just have a desire to help students, make sure your voice is heard, because otherwise this issue just won’t get the attention it needs.”

Ultimately, it’s about children and not individual schools or organizations, said Mr. Vandiver. “We know it’s challenging, but we just hope that the legislators really take a look at how this could help families out, help kids succeed in the future,” he said.

The annual [email protected] event, which champions school choice in Frankfort, will be held differently this year due to COVID19, with virtual and limited in-person options. The CCK encourages citizens to stay in touch with the General Assembly by tuning into live video coverage of legislative meetings, contacting lawmakers to offer feedback, reading bills and resolutions, and signing up to receive notices when bills advance. The General Assembly’s web page provides all of the above information.