With state lawmakers once again introducing bills that would create tax credits for donations to private school scholarship programs, local school district leaders are calling the measures counterproductive.
“This bill, to me, serves as a distraction,” Bowling Green Independent School District Superintendent Gary Fields told the Daily News.
Fields reacted to Senate Bill 110, which was introduced Friday by Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester. Identical legislation – House Bill 350 – was introduced by Rep. Chad McCoy, R-Bardstown.
Fields said the move should not be a priority with rollbacks to K-12 funding cuts on the line during this year’s legislative session. Following a budget proposal from Gov. Andy Beshear earlier this week, lawmakers will set to work crafting a two-year state budget this session.
Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Clayton, who leads the state’s fourth-largest school district, shares a similar view. Clayton questioned how lawmakers could support legislation “that would further reduce the path available to adequately cover the true cost of educating our kids.”
“It’s no secret that we have a revenue shortage and are unable to fund the current demands of educating our students,” Clayton said.
Senate Bill 110’s stated aim is to help send more low-income, middle-income and foster children to private schools, along with ensuring that “more students with special needs in the Commonwealth have access to the classroom or qualified special educational services that work best for their unique needs.”
To qualify for a scholarship, students would have to come from a household earning no more than 200 percent of the income needed to receive federal reduced-price meals in a public school. Students would also be eligible if they’ve previously received a scholarship under the program, come from a household with a student already benefiting from the program or if they’re in foster care.
Public education advocates fought back against a similar measure in 2019. In news conferences held across Kentucky last spring, school district superintendents argued that such tax credits would drain public schools of per-pupil funding and hurt their most vulnerable students. They cited state budget cuts to funding for textbooks, teacher training and no support for full-day kindergarten programs. Shortly afterward, the measure stalled and never moved forward.
Echoing last year’s bill, Senate Bill 110 would earmark up to $25 million for donors to private school scholarship programs. Donors could be credited for 95 percent or $1 million for their contributions.
On Monday, as school choice supporters rallied at Kentucky’s Capitol to support the bill, Alvarado said scholarship tax credits would open doors for students from less fortunate families.
“Scholarship tax credits will unlock the world of opportunities for kids who currently find themselves on the outside of the best schools looking in,” Alvarado said, according to The Associated Press.
Senate Bill 110 has been forwarded to the chamber’s standing committee for appropriations and revenue. Its companion bill in the House was assigned to a similar committee.