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Critics Say KY Voucher Plan Would Siphon Funds from Public Schools

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Some 70% of Kentucky children would be eligible for a proposed private-school tax credit program recently introduced by state legislators. (Adobe Stock)
Some 70% of Kentucky children would be eligible for a proposed private-school tax credit program recently introduced by state legislators. (Adobe Stock)
January 28, 2021

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Some Kentucky lawmakers are proposing a statewide voucher program based on tax credits, so families can send their kids to private schools.

House Bill 149 would give donors like major corporations a special-interest tax break for giving money to privately controlled organizations that use the funds to pay kids' private-school tuition.

Critics argue it would drain $25 million from the state budget in its first year alone.

Jeni Bolander, a teacher at Fayette County Public Schools, said she understands why some families chose private schools but thinks public tax money shouldn't be used to pay for them.

"You know, outside of schools, we need roads and hospitals," Bolander acknowledged. "And yet, inside of schools, we're seeing that we've had textbooks cut for the past two years, we've had no professional development funds, I think Title I got reduced. It's just a lot."

The funding gap between students in wealthy and poor districts in the Commonwealth is now almost $3,000 per student, largely driven by shrinking state investments in education along with an increasing reliance on local tax dollars.

Anna Baumann, deputy director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, explained the bill includes a provision that would allow the size of the tax credit to grow by 25%, each year that 90% of the money is used.

"When you do the math on that and kind of look out a few years, we can see that, for instance, in just three years, we'll be spending more on the program than the state budgeted for education technology across the Commonwealth this year," Baumann observed.

Baumann pointed out within 10 years, the program could divert $1 billion from the state budget into private schools.

States like Florida have passed similar laws.

Baumann noted last year, private-school tax credits cost Floridians nearly $900 million. Meanwhile, districts are struggling to meet basic needs, and maintain after-school services and staffing levels.

"And so, when we're taking that kind of money out of the General Fund, and therefore out of the ability of legislators to invest in our K-through-12 schools, we're leaving those schools with less and less resources," Baumann contended.

She added the tax break donors would receive is 19 times greater than the state's charitable-deduction rules for giving to nonprofits. At 95 cents for every dollar donated up to $1 million, Baumann stated it would be the most generous tax credit offered in Kentucky.

Disclosure: Kentucky Center for Economic Policy contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy and Priorities, Criminal Justice, Education, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - KY