This past week, former State Representative Jim Wayne authored an opinion piece that encouraged Catholics to oppose the Scholarship Tax Credit proposal known as House Bill 205. While I appreciate Representative Wayne and his years of dedication to our state and the Catholic Church, I feel compelled to respond to his central claim that Scholarship Tax Credits are contrary to Catholic social teaching.
A Scholarship Tax Credit program would help ensure that students, regardless of their financial situation, have the opportunity to obtain the education they deserve at a school that best meets their needs. While I firmly believe in the importance of supporting our public schools, I also believe that for some students, the classroom setting found in non-public schools may be a more conducive learning environment for their unique abilities. House Bill 205 would dramatically increase tuition assistance available to families who feel a non-public school in Kentucky, including those that are faith-based, is best for their child.
Creating a Scholarship Tax Credit program in Kentucky would empower parents to play an influential role in their child’s education, a central Catholic teaching. In his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), Pope Francis strongly sets forth that education is the “primary right” of parents. This is not simply a task for the parents to accomplish, but rather an “essential and inalienable right.” The government’s role is to support the parents in the exercise of this right, not to replace them.
The reality is that educational choice already exists in Kentucky, but sadly, not for Kentucky’s most vulnerable students. Families with means have always been able to select the school that best fits their child’s needs. Scholarship Tax Credit legislation would allow more families to exercise this right and provide Kentucky children with equal opportunities.
This legislation will help those in need, due to a mandate that over half of the allotted aid will assist high need students. This includes families whose income is below the reduced lunch threshold, students with special needs and students within Kentucky’s foster care system. Once that mandate is met, scholarships are allowed to go to students whose family income is no higher than 200% above the reduced lunch threshold. In keeping with the Catholic tradition of helping those who need it most, participants will receive aid proportionate to their level of need.
The goal of this program is not to take away from public schools, and I recognize and applaud the important role the public-school system plays in educating most students. However, there are select students who simply need a more individualized education.
Other states have successfully implemented this program, which has proven to help those students with unique abilities learn effectively. The results also have shown that these programs not only benefit students who receive financial aid, but also students in the public-school system. For example, Florida has the largest Scholarship Tax Credit program in the country, with over 100,000 participants. Yet, when the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results were released, Florida’s public schools made more progress than those in any other state. Florida students with special needs and from across racial and economic lines succeeded in showing improvement on these tests. And, it is not only the public schools that have experienced success. A recent study by the Urban Institute found that Scholarship Tax Credit participants were more likely to attend and graduate from college.
In no way do I want to impose a religious education on every family. Our faith teaches the importance of empowering families and helping those in greatest need. Through this program, we hope we can do both while providing successful educational outcomes for future generations.
Most Reverend Joseph E. Kurtz, D.D.
Archbishop of Louisville