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School Choice Debate Shifts To Tax Credits

Associated Press

As school choice advocates rally across the state and in Frankfort, a battle is brewing over a proposed statewide scholarship tax credit aimed at helping low-income and disadvantaged children attend private schools.

Thursday, the halls of the Capitol teemed with 7th and 8th graders donning yellow scarves, all students from urban schools run by the Diocese of Covington.

"The Diocese has taken over these because they needed help with funding," Assistant Superintendent Kendra McGuire explained.

The consortium of schools, known as the Alliance for Catholic Urban Education, relies on a development department to raise funds to pay the costs. And under House Bill 134, Kentuckians would have greater incentive to give. If enacted, individuals and businesses that donate to organizations offering private school scholarships would receive a tax break up to $1 million.

"There are many more children in the community  who could benefit from being to choose these types of schools," she said. "All of our schools do a really good job, but we have families that, if they could afford it, and these tax credits would be able to give them the opportunity, then they can choose what's best for their children."

But public school advocates argue the bill could siphon millions from state coffers just as the governor's proposed budget scales back state support for local districts. Louisville public school supporter Linda Scherer worries about "public schools trying to educate children with less money, fewer resources, and the way things are going, maybe fewer teachers."

HB 134 sets aside $25 million for the tax credits in the first year. A similar measure, introduced by Republican Sen. Ralph Alvarado, sets the same cap.

McGuire sees positives for public schools, however.

"In some ways, this program would actually may free up money for the public schools because private donors will be assisting families in choosing a different school, freeing up those public school funds for them," she says.

Both bills are listed as pending in committee.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.