The Illusion of Scholarship Tax Credits

Don Bacon

In February 2019,  House Bill 205 was introduced in Kentucky, a bill which was written to establish scholarship tax credits.  If it were to become law, this would allow for donations to be provided to scholarship organizations which grant tuition assistance to families wishing for their students to attend private K-12 schools.  The donors to the scholarship organizations would receive a tax deduction from the state.

Scholarship tax credits and school choice are the jargon of private and charter school advocates.  Calling them scholarship tax credits is much more attractive than their actuality. Truthfully, they are a loophole around school voucher initiatives, which do not garner as much public support.  School choice is code for options to send fewer students to public school and for public dollars to go to private schools.  

Scholarship tax credits create a myriad of issues behind the facade of better options for parents and families.

The Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) funding program uses a formula to calculate the amount of dollars each school district receives based on the number of students enrolled and in attendance.  Base SEEK funding provides $4,000 dollars per student, with extra funds for at-risk students. While this is the largest amount of money per student ever spent in Kentucky, it falls below previous levels when adjusted for inflation.  

If public schools were to receive less funding due to a significant number of students choosing to attend private schools using scholarships, difficult choices would have to be made on how public schools would continue.  These could be increases to student to teacher ratios, the discontinuing of some courses, and the reduction of support staff for a school. The written law necessities for a school do not always match with the reality of what each school needs.  Many schools are desperate for smaller class sizes and more mental health counselors, which would be nearly impossible to achieve with a smaller budget.  

The loss from SEEK funding would be compounded with the cuts education in Kentucky dealt with in 2018.  The Kentucky Teacher Internship Program, money for textbooks and instructional materials,, and funds for teacher professional development were all eliminated.  A large reason teachers protested HB 205 in February was because schools in Kentucky are already underfunded and a scholarship tax credit plan would exacerbate the problem.

Public school educators are aware of the diverse needs of learners and support creative educational solutions for all students.  Scholarship tax credits and school choice initiatives ignore the fact that public schools are for all students with every variety of educational need, background, and difference.  Our society should be cautious about giving up infrastructure in our communities. Scholarship tax credits rely on the benevolence of groups and individuals who would rather fund private institutions, which are not held publicly accountable, rather than public institutions which serve everyone.  

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