Home » Op-Ed: Support students across Kentucky with school choice

Op-Ed: Support students across Kentucky with school choice

by Sen. Ralph Alvarado and Rep. Josh Calloway

Parents are tired of being told by politicians and special interest groups that they shouldn’t have a role in their children’s education. It’s not only insulting, but it also callously denies the reality that parents know their kids and their unique learning needs best.

Kentucky parents deserve to be empowered to help their children succeed in the classroom and throughout their lives. Luckily, there is a popular and proven answer: school choice.

Giving families educational choice options will help every Kentucky student access the right learning environment to fit their unique needs. That could mean a private school, homeschooling or perhaps your local public school.

Study after study around the country reveals school choice opportunities have fueled success for participating students as well as students in traditional public schools. There’s no reason to keep Kentucky’s kids trapped in situations that aren’t working for them.

Last year, we joined student-centered leaders in the General Assembly in a bold step to create the Education Opportunity Account program. We paved the way for families to receive privately-funded scholarships they could use to cover everything from tutoring to technology to dual-credit courses. In Kentucky’s most populous counties, parents could even use the funds to pay tuition at the nonpublic school of their choice.

The new school choice program is a game-changer for Kentucky students.

Now, it’s time to sharpen our pencils and do more. A recent poll showed 71% of Kentuckians supported expanding all aspects of the current school choice program statewide.

That’s why we introduced new legislation this year to build on our success and help more students reach their full potential.

First, our legislation will give families in every county—regardless of population—access to nonpublic school tuition assistance. That means parents from Paducah to Pikeville can apply for scholarships to send their children to a school they believe will foster a love of learning that lasts a lifetime.

Next, it opens eligibility to more low- and middle-income families. The current income limit would leave out families of state troopers and teachers—hardworking Kentuckians who certainly can’t be considered too high-earning to need help. Our legislation gives these families the chance to transform the lives of their children.

And third, the bills provide a responsible path to grow the program beyond its current funding limit to keep up with the high demand from Kentucky families who simply want the best education for their kids.

We were motivated not only by our own educational journeys but also by stories of moms like Desirae Caudill in Madison County. Desirae watched her kids struggle and fall behind in virtual schooling during the pandemic. She made the difficult financial decision to put them into an in-person private school, where they quickly got back on track. Since Madison County isn’t eligible for nonpublic school tuition assistance in the current law, Desirae is frequently left choosing between affording tuition or paying her bills.

As Desirae and moms like her sacrifice and pinch pennies for their kids, they deserve our help.

Since we introduced the legislation in January, more than twenty of our colleagues have joined on as cosponsors. We were especially grateful for the support of Speaker David Osborne and House Majority Whip Chad McCoy.

Unfortunately, opponents of school choice have once again dug up their old arguments against parents and students looking for better options. They offer false claims about taking funds from public schools and dishonestly argue Kentucky’s program is discriminatory. The facts clearly show otherwise. The General Assembly passed school choice in the same year it approved an additional $140 million for public schools. And surveys also show the enthusiastic calls for expanded educational choice opportunities among Black and Hispanic students.

We refuse to let the other side’s scare tactics keep our children in learning environments that aren’t working. Like other states, we want to continue growing Kentucky’s school choice program so more students have more opportunities to grow and thrive in a classroom that ignites their passion for education.

We are eager for our bills to advance through the General Assembly this session. Along with parents, students and advocates, we’re having conversations with our colleagues to build support and get educational resources to those who need them most.

The future of Kentucky is bright because of the potential of our children. We’re working to give them every opportunity to grow and succeed.

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