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Op-Ed: Why Catholics Should Oppose Tuition Tax Credits for Private Schools

The following op-ed is written by former State Rep. Jim Wayne, a Democrat from Louisville, who served in the state House from 1990 to 2019.

St. Agnes Catholic School in Louisville holds the distinction of being a U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon School four times. No other school in our commonwealth has achieved this prestigious honor of education excellence.

As members of St. Agnes Church, my wife and I know our financial support of this school is part of our mission to share our faith with the new generation. Along with a well-rounded, rigorous program in arts and sciences, the school teaches the foundations of our faith and our identity as followers of Christ to serve the world with our talents and treasures, especially the poor.

This is not new for us. Our grandparents did the same as did our parents. We now witness grandchildren benefiting from this same spirit of generosity spurred by faith.

None of our extended family looked to the government to subsidize what we believe to be a core value of our lives.

For those not able to afford Catholic tuition, organizations like the Catholic Educational Foundation and Community Catholic Center work to make tuition affordable for most moderate income and poor families.  

However, Catholic schools are not designed to accommodate all children the way public schools must do by law. Children with severe mental, physical and learning challenges or with language differences…those on the margins…are shut out of Catholic schools.

My Catholic faith teaches that these children are just as sacred, just as valuable as any other child. Their unique educational needs must be addressed by a thriving public school system.

Yet our public school systems are under attack in Frankfort. They remain drastically underfunded, the teachers’ pension system is financially threatened and attacked and test scores and dropout rates continue to shame us all.

Despite these crises, Frankfort Republican leaders are not just ignoring what is occurring, they promise to compound the problems by pushing legislation, HB 149, to give middle and upper class Kentuckians a tax credit for donations made to finance private schools, including Catholic schools. Over the next 19 years this proposal will swell to suck over $1.7 billion a year from the state’s coffers to subsidize schools that serve a select group of students.

To compound the problem, Kentucky’s misguided Catholic bishops are promoting HB 149 with the fallacious reasoning it will offer “choice” to poor children whose parents want to escape a failing public school system and flee to a Catholic school.

The hole left in the state’s budget…which has been structurally imbalanced for nearly 20 years…will drain even more money from critical state programs including public schools, child protective and daycare services, after school, health and mental health programs as well as Youth Service Centers.

As Catholics we are taught every public policy decision must be first filtered through the lens of “How will this affect the poorest among us?”  The answer for HB 149 is: it hurts the poor.

Sometimes Catholics are led by our bishops, sometimes our bishops must be led by the people in the pews. Our bishops, perhaps unaware of the serious fiscal crises facing our commonwealth, now need to be instructed.

It is time they promote comprehensive tax reform to insure all valuable public services in our poor, undereducated, unhealthy, environmentally threatened commonwealth are fully funded. It is not the time for them to siphon money from our state treasury to pay for Catholic schools. These schools can be financed by prosperous Catholics whose lives have been shaped by their faith experiences in Catholic schools, not by the state.

It is time for all Catholics to join those doing the morally correct thing: defeat HB 149.

-Jim Wayne

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