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Op-Ed: Students in Our Urban Core Need School Choice

The following op-ed is written by Northern Kentucky attorney Mark Guilfoyle, chairman of the Alliance for Catholic Urban Education (ACUE) development advisory committee.

Northern Kentucky’s identity and heritage spring from its urban core. It is great to see the renaissance unfolding in our river cities.  Joe Meyer, Mayor of Covington, recently told me that he marvels at the number of young families he sees in the MainStrasse area of Covington. In the coming years, it seems likely that families will continue to flock to the urban core. 

But every family needs certain community structures if they are to thrive and prosper in a particular neighborhood. Families need good health care facilities, good transportation, churches of all denominations and quality schools. That last necessary building block brings me to the issue of school choice.

Every state surrounding Kentucky except Missouri has some form of school choice laws. Right across the river in Cincinnati, parents can obtain a $4,650 voucher for their child to attend a non-public elementary school of the parents’ choosing. What a boon that has been for Cincinnati’s urban core.

In Kentucky, we already have school choice. The problem is school choice is only available to those who can afford it. People like me who live outside the urban core and can afford a Catholic school for my kids. 

Many families in the urban core, of course, are not so fortunate. They need assistance if they are to access a non-public school option.

The Alliance for Catholic Urban Education (ACUE) seeks to support the six Catholic elementary schools in the urban core: Holy Trinity in Campbell County and Holy Cross, St. Anthony, St. Augustine, Holy Family and Prince of Peace in Covington. Three of these schools qualify for free and reduced lunches for 100% of their students. I remember the principal at St. Augustine telling a group a few years ago during the winter that her greatest fear was a snow day because that meant a significant number of students at St. Augustine would not receive a good breakfast and lunch that day.

These students need our help.

Help may be on the way in Frankfort. House Bill 563 has passed the legislature and it provides for educational opportunity accounts for both public school and non-public school children. It provides a tax credit for donations made to account granting organizations like ACUE. In other words, private money is donated to a charitable organization which in turn grants tuition assistance to needy students, and the person making the donation gets a tax credit for his or her donation. The Bill places a statewide cap on tax credits at $25 million. 

Critics of this legislation have propagated outright lies to defeat it. The legislation will not benefit wealthy families. Benefits are reserved for low-income students. The legislation does not redirect tax funds from public schools to non-public schools. The $25 million is generated from private donations.

It is true that the tax credits would result in $25 million less in the General Fund but consider this. There are 572 students currently enrolled in the ACUE schools. If those six schools close and those 572 students have to enroll in public schools, that will result in an $8.2 million additional cost to educate those students in a public setting (This is based on the Kentucky Department of Educations’ reported per pupil current expense spending of $14,331). And that’s just in Northern Kentucky. Educating students in non-public settings literally saves the taxpayers of Kentucky millions of dollars every year -- far more than House Bill 563’s $25 million price tag. 

Since Governor Beshear has vetoed House Bill 563, and there will be 51 votes needed in the House to override that veto. Northern Kentucky has two state representatives in the urban core who voted against the bill. I hope they will take time to reflect on the tremendous benefit that will be accorded to 572 needy families - their constituents - if House Bill 563 becomes law. I urge both state representatives to override Governor Beshear’s veto next week. 

Mark Guilfoyle is Chairman of the ACUE Development Advisory Committee. He practices law at DBL Law, which is moving its headquarters office to Covington this Fall.   

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