Seventy three. That’s how many counties in Kentucky don’t have a private school. Do you know who has the most private schools? The Golden Triangle. You can drive along the southern border from Todd County all the way to Letcher County and not hit a single county with a private school. One of those seventy three counties without a private school is Martin County. Martin still does not have drinking water. HB350 would take money from the general fund and give it to the Golden Triangle, neglecting our rural counties and taking away funding our commonwealth needs to provide government services.
The entire premise of Scholarship Tax Credits, or Backdoor Vouchers, is that it offers families a choice. But is that true? In JCPS, we have students who are homeless. Who is completing the appropriate application and tax information for them? According to the JCPS Data Book, there are over five thousand students in the district who are homeless. That’s just the ones we know about. How is this tax credit going to help them?
The abject poverty of homelessness is not the only financial barrier. Parents who are working two and three jobs and still living in poverty rarely have the time or the ability to access all the information necessary to fulfill the application requirements. If a parent is unable to fill out the information, how is the student meant to access this “opportunity” for education? According to the JCPS Data Book, over sixty percent of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Due to the magnitude, JCPS implemented entire schools as free lunch and breakfast several years ago. If those students find a way to apply, what will they eat? Are these private institutions prepared to offer students free breakfast and lunch in addition to these scholarships? For some of my students, the majority of their meals are from JCPS. For our neediest, their only meals are from JCPS.
How are they even going to get to the school in the first place? There is a lot of conflict surrounding the idea of bussing in JCPS, but the fact is that families rely on the bussing to get their child to school even if they live near their school. The entirety of bussing isn’t just bussing children from the West End to the East. Bussing in JCPS also includes families with no or limited transportation, students who have been accepted into selective programs, and students being bussed to a school in their own neighborhood. Will this tax credit include transportation provided by the school?
We have over 12,000 students who are identified as English as a Second Language or English Language Learners, are the schools who would benefit from this proposed tax credit going to have services to reach them? How many Bilingual Assistant Interpreters will be available at these schools? Do they have an interpreter for Kinyarawanda? That’s the fifth most spoken language in my school, behind English, Spanish, Arabic, and Swahili. What programs do they have in place for Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE)? Students from war-torn countries often have gaps in education that require special instruction and consideration.
The JCPS Board of Education is currently looking at a proposal to end exiting in our selective schools. Even when exited from a selective school, students in JCPS are never expelled from our school system. Every child in our commonwealth has a right to an education. If these private institutions want to have tax dollars to provide education, does that mean that they will no longer kick students out of their school systems? Can a child have a rainbow cake for her birthday without being accused of committing “lifestyle offenses” that result in expulsion? How can we be sure that these students aren’t being kicked out purely because these private entities cannot meet the needs of the student?
We have very real concerns in Kentucky. The proposed legislation would take fifty million dollars of our biennium budget and put it into private schools that don’t have the rules, regulation, oversight, and transparency required of public schools. Eastern Kentucky was submerged under water and has been neglected for decades. We have had a series of miners deprived of pay. We have thousands of homeless children all across the state. We have an ongoing opioid crisis. We don’t have one cent that we don’t already need. If we have this money to invest in education, it needs to go to public education where we love and teach every child that comes to us no matter what. It’s clear that these credits aren’t intended to help our most needy. They’re designed to provide a coupon for families who already attend these schools.