Kentucky Supreme Court May Strengthen Parental Choice in Education – Lexington Herald Leader | Team Cansler


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The Kentucky Supreme Court with Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. is photographed with Justice Robert B. Conley in the Supreme Court courtroom in Frankfort, Ky. on Tuesday, June 8, 2021 (AOC Photo/Brian Bohannon).

The Kentucky Supreme Court with Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. is photographed with Justice Robert B. Conley in the Supreme Court courtroom in Frankfort, Ky. on Tuesday, June 8, 2021 (AOC Photo/Brian Bohannon).

Brian Bohannon

Akia McNeary, a Kentucky mother of four, was disappointed when the Council for Better Education filed a lawsuit to block Kentucky’s new Educational Opportunity Account (EOA) program.

“Even with my own four children, I saw the need for multiple educational options,” she said. “If this group truly wants a better education in Kentucky, they should work to ensure that lower-income families have access to opportunities beyond their county schools.”

The EOA, the country’s first tax credit-funded education savings account, will allow eligible parents to receive stipend accounts that can be used for approved educational expenses such as private school tuition, tutoring, tuition and extracurricular activities at public schools and college courses. The accounts are funded by donations from individuals and businesses, who receive tax credits for their donations.

Last fall, a district judge sided with the CBE and ruled the EOA unconstitutional. The Kentucky Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and held a hearing in Shelby County on Wednesday. The Institute for Justice is defending the program on behalf of McNeary and another parent.

The central question in the case is whether the tax credit constitutes public funding of a private school. If history is any guide, the answer to that question is no. After all, there are nearly 30 tax credit grant programs across the country, as well as countless other state and federal tax credits and deductions.

A decade ago, there was a similar court case in Arizona in which opponents claimed a school-choice program for tax-credit scholarships was unconstitutional. Like CBE, they argued that private grant donations — dollars that never go to the state — are somehow still state property.

In the majority opinion in favor of the Arizona program, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that the notion that monies not paid in taxes are nonetheless public monies “assumes that all proceeds are government property, even if they are did not fall into the hands of the tax collectors. This premise finds no basis in settled case law.”

If money not given to the state is classified as state money, then the state’s ability to restrict, direct, and regulate citizens’ incomes would be virtually limitless. Applying this standard to other tax credits and deductions could result in America’s churches and other charitable nonprofits suddenly being labeled “state-funded.” That conclusion would threaten all kinds of tax credits and deductions that are currently taken for granted in Kentucky.

McNary attended the Supreme Court hearing and hopes the judges will allow the program to go into effect.

“My own children have all had different educational experiences,” McNeary said. “We used the local district school when it was working well. But we have also attended a Christian school when my children needed something else—whether it was because of public school bullying or because of different learning needs that the public school could not meet. Tuition has been a financial hardship, but we’ve made it through so far. “The EOAs would be especially helpful for my younger children. My son Isaiah would use this program in public school for ACT preparation,” she added.

The supporters of the program are not alone. Morning Consult polls in Kentucky show that 67 percent of adults — and 78 percent of parents — support educational savings accounts like the KY EOA program. Given the growing awareness that children are unique and have diverse educational needs, this support makes sense. It’s unrealistic to think that a school is the best option for any child who happens to live near them.

Wealthy Kentuckians have always had educational opportunities. The EOA program would help low- and middle-income families take advantage of similar opportunities. In declaring her support for the program, Akia McNeary expresses the hopes of thousands of parents across Kentucky: “I want to make sure my children get the best education possible because I know education gets them where they are want .”

Colleen Hroncich is a Policy Analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom. Caleb O. Brown is the host of the Cato Daily Podcast and a father of three in Shelby County.

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