HB 205 optimistic but shouldn’t be passed

Published 3:25 pm Friday, March 8, 2019

Not too many people are against school choice. The ability for our children to pick which school they go to in the area they live should be an obvious option. Not every student will succeed in a large school, just like every student isn’t fit for a smaller “everybody knows everybody” school.

Then comes the issue of private schools. Should a child have the ability to attend private schools if they so choose no matter what their income status is? That is an issue that House Bill 205 is trying to address.

The bill, which was sponsored by House Majority Leader John “Bam” Carney, a Republican from Campbellsville, would give incentives to those in Kentucky to donate to private school scholarship programs in exchange for annual dollar-for-dollar tax breaks up to $1 million.

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HB 205, which is championed by Gov. Matt Bevin, is believed to give at-risk kids access to education tailored to their needs. Opponents of the bill worry about money being drained from the state’s revenue stream — hurting public schools in the process.

At first glance, HB 205 looked like a slam dunk. Who could possibly be against broadening the idea of school choice?

Then you start thinking about the money involved. According to a report by the Courier-Journal, the Legislative Research Commission has estimated the program could cost the state up to $50 million by its fourth year of implementation.

My thoughts on the issue are similar to those of Middlesboro Superintendent Waylon Allen who said, “I am not against school choice, but with the amount of money we are losing, I don’t support any tax credits of any kind.”

Similar to Allen, I have no problems with students having their choice of a school. Locally, I believe a student should have the ability to go to any school they want as long as the school has room.

The issue comes with active promotion of one type of school over another, and that is what this bill is essentially doing. By giving people incentives to donate to private school scholarship funds, it takes away from a public school system that is already underfunded in areas like Bell County, Harlan County or any other eastern Kentucky districts.

When you think about the tax breaks for those donating the money, they are getting a dollar-for-dollar tax break. So in a roundabout way, that is almost the same as the state government paying for these private scholarships.

There is also the issue of taking students from public schools and moving them to private schools. Do I personally have a problem if a child picks a private school over a public school, no. But, redirecting money and resources to schools that are supposed to be private and stand on their own merit, this I do see as an issue.

Schools in our area need all the money they can get. And, if the $50 million price tag in the next four years is accurate, that will only continue the funding problems for our schools.