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Students and parents rally for school choice in Frankfort

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Posted at 5:35 PM, Jan 24, 2022

FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — State lawmakers are again trying to offer tax credits to help families pay for private school.

In 2021, school choice advocates were excited when lawmakers passed Kentucky's education opportunity account law. It offered families in the most populous counties the option to use an opportunity account to pay for private school tuition.

At the time, school choice parent Aika McNeary told LEX 18 the law would "mean a lot" for her family.

She explained that some of her children need private school, and her family makes sacrifices to make that happen.

"Sometimes we have to choose between paying for the tuition, paying the book fees," said McNeary in 2021. "In the summertime, it’s really difficult for us because that’s when book fees are due. My husband and I have to work multiple jobs just to get the book fees taken care of."

However, public education supporters told LEX 18 that public money should not be used to fund private schools.

"It torques me - is the polite way to say it - that my tax money is going to be used to support private schools and parochial schools," said Chuck Eddy, who was protesting school choice in 2021. "I believe in a strict separation of church and state. I don’t think any tax money should go to support that."

The law passed in 2021 and the education opportunity account program was created. However, it was not implemented because of legal action.

The Council for Better Education, a group that represents most school districts in Kentucky, sued over the program. The suit argues the program illegally funds private schools using money that would normally be public money. Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled the law is illegal, partly because the private school tuition component was not available to all Kentucky counties.

However, School Choice supporters are not giving up hope. EdChoice Kentucky held a rally in support of school choice on Monday.

Andrew Vandiver, president of EdChoice Kentucky, told LEX 18 News that he's confident the education opportunity account law will survive in court.

"These types of programs have been upheld in every state that they’ve been challenged in," said Vandiver. "It’s not unusual that a lawsuit would be filed to block parents from having choice, but they’ve been totally unsuccessful - to the point that there’s never been a tax credit type program like this struck down in courts.”

So, the group is currently focused on expanding Kentucky's school choice program to all counties.

Sen. Ralph Alvarado and Rep. Josh Calloway have new bills that would allow Kentucky families to use education opportunity accounts to pay for private school, regardless of which county they live in.

"It's the right thing to do, morally, for parents who are just desperate for options," said Vandiver. "Right now, we have this inequitable situation in Kentucky where some families get to choose and others don't. And we need to level that playing field so that all families have a choice."

Aika McNeary returned to Frankfort this year to support the expansion. She believes it's important to give parents the ability to choose the school that best suits their child.

"I see the need for choices. Some kids have behavior issues. Some kids have sensory issues. Some kids have attention deficit disorders. Some kids have ADHD. And public school just doesn’t fit," said McNeary. "It fits for some, but it doesn’t fit for everybody."

Her son, Nehemiah Yancy, said he feels like he has more support at his private school.

"Private school has been really good to me, and public school has not," said Yancy. "When I came home with homework, I never knew how to do it. But at my private school, I get as much help as I need.”

The Kentucky Education Association is against the "voucher bills."

“These recent private school voucher bills introduced in the general assembly are yet another attempt to remove much-needed funding from our public schools and public school students by diverting it through “scholarship tax credits” that allow wealthy individuals and corporations to “donate” money in return for favorable tax refunds," said KEA President Eddie Campbell. “These are bad bills. They’re bad for the 90 percent of our children who attend our public schools. They’re bad for the taxpayers of Kentucky. They’re bad for the communities who will pay for these ‘tax refunds,’ and they're bad for those kids who can be refused entry to a private school because they may not meet a required or desired criteria."