Witt: Tax deductions for donations to private schools unneccessary

In January, a rally was held in Frankfort to support a proposal to offer tax deductions to aid in providing private school scholarships.

The rally occurred during National School Choice Week and was organized by Andrew Vandiver of EdChoice KY.

Speakers included House majority leader John Carney (R-Campbellsville) and Sen. Ralph Alvarado (R-Winchester).

Carney said he planned to file a bill in February granting a generous tax credit to those who donate money for student financial aid at private schools. The tax credit being proposed is indeed generous, amounting to 95 percent of the amount donated.

The website of EdChoice KY states its mission as, “focused on educating the Commonwealth on the benefits of Scholarship Tax Credit programs for students across the state.”

It seems likely “educating the Commonwealth” really means lobbying the state legislature for such measures.

Carney apparently said, “This is not a competition between traditional public schools, private schools, whatever.”  Despite Carney’s obvious inability to compose a coherent sentence, the fact is this proposal is exactly what he claims it is not.

Considering Kentucky education is already grossly underfunded (the Education Week Research Center grades Kentucky as F in education funding), how is granting new tax concessions — which reduce the amount of revenue available to all Kentucky programs, including education — not creating an atmosphere of competition for funds amongst various education programs?

According to the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, as of October 2018, the state ranked eighth worst in the nation for college affordability.

This ranking will not likely be improved by reducing funds for public education, even at the elementary and secondary levels.

Another appropriate question might be whether the proposed bill would also allow such tax deductions for people donating to the public school system? And if not, why?

The Kentucky Education Association opposes this legislation because it will funnel scarce funds into dubious and often unproven private education institutions, both for-profit and religious.

And though many religious schools in the state have proven academic credentials, the diversion of public money, through tax legislation, to these religious institutions evokes numerous separation issues.

Alvarado was quoted saying the scholarship tax credit program would help Kentucky rise from its current ranking of 42nd in the nation in education for low-income students.

First, where did the senator get his figures? Second, how can he be so sure Kentucky’s stature would be so enhanced by this piece of legislation?

It is easy to make such unsubstantiated claims when addressing a friendly crowd and one in which fact checking is not immediately available.

There are many statistics relating to education in Kentucky and it is easy to cherry pick the ones most convenient for the one citing them.

Kentucky doesn’t seem to be doing so terribly bad in the field of education, at least according to some of those statistics.

For instance, the Kentucky high school graduation rate is 88 percent, higher than the national average of 83.2 percent.

The eighth-grade NAEP math score in Kentucky is 278, the national average is 281 — not a great gap.

At least these figures indicate some aspects of secondary education here are doing things right, despite the perennial lack of adequate funding.

The bottom line is this bill is not necessary and will, if passed, only create greater hardships for public education in Kentucky.

Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at chuck740@bellsouth.net.