School Choice-Kentucky

School choice advocates rally at the Kentucky Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. They are supporting legislation that would give tax credits to people who donate to scholarship funds for special-needs children or those in low-income homes to attend private schools. Content Exchange

(The Center Square) – Kentucky resident Akia McNeary knows firsthand a one-size-fits-all approach to education doesn’t work for all children.

McNeary, from Florence, has four children, three of whom are school-aged. Of those in school, one attends Ryle High School, a public school in Boone County. She also has a middle-schooler who attends Zion Christian Academy in Florence and one who will be entering kindergarten this upcoming school year.

McNeary told The Center Square she’s undecided about what she’ll do with the youngest. The public school system redistricted, and McNeary’s youngest would attend Steeplechase Elementary, a school that will open in August.

She would like for her daughter to go to Zion, but while her middle-school child qualified for a partial scholarship, her youngest does not. That means McNeary likely will stay home and homeschool her.

What McNeary hopes for is a new law that would allow her to receive education opportunity grants to help offset her children’s educational expenses. In some cases, families would be able to use them to pay for private schools.

McNeary said she grew up wanting to be a nurse, but she only learned to read at a fourth-grade level by the time she reached high school.

“I wasn't prepared at the elementary, at the middle school, at the high school level, so that stopped my dream and my ambition to be what I really wanted to be,” McNeary said. “And I don't think that this generation, these children need to grow up thinking, ‘I can't be what I really wanted to be because my school failed me my whole entire life.’ "

Critics of the law filed a lawsuit earlier this month, claiming the accounts and how they are funded are unconstitutional.

“The issue here is it’s unconstitutional to take taxpayer dollars out of a public school setting to be used for private purposes,” Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Clayton said earlier this month during a school board meeting in the south central Kentucky county.

According to the Bowling Green Daily News, the school board voted to back the lawsuit.

Clayton serves as an executive council vice president for Council for Better Education, which filed the suit in Franklin Circuit Court last week.

Seeing states such as neighboring Ohio that have school choice laws makes McNeary wonder why it would be legal there and not in Kentucky.

Represented by the Institute for Justice, McNeary was one of two people who filed a lawsuit last week to intervene in the case.

“Kentucky’s Education Opportunity Account Program is constitutional and will empower families to choose the best education for their child,” Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Michael Bindas said. “The lawsuit challenging the program is nothing more than an attempt by the education establishment to deny greater alternatives and opportunity to Kentucky children.”

Kentucky lawmakers passed House Bill 563 during the General Assembly’s session earlier this year. It allows for account-granting organizations to receive donations, with individuals or businesses receiving tax credits for their contributions.

The law caps the credits at $25 million annually.

The AGO would be able to establish education opportunity accounts for students whose households make no more than 175% of the income needed to be eligible for reduced school meals.

Families would be able to use the money for a variety of purposes, and McNeary’s family would have several uses themselves.

Her high school student could use funds to pay for dual-credit courses that would allow him to graduate from high school with an associates degree and reduce his higher education expenses.

She would then use funds to pay for tuition at Zion for her middle schooler and soon-to-be kindergartener. The law allows residents in counties with a population greater than 90,000 to use the grants to pay for private schooling.

Getting her youngest in there would allow her to get a job instead of homeschooling.

“It would absolutely help me to get back into the workforce,” McNeary said.

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