An Open Letter to Kentucky Legislators from the Bluegrass Institute:
Twenty years ago, a group of community leaders met and wondered how they could make the biggest difference in poor children’s lives in the inner city of Louisville. Their passion resulted in School Choice Scholarships and was based on the founders’ vision that children from low-income homes should have the same opportunities for academic success that peers from wealthier homes enjoy.
Why, they reasoned, should any child’s opportunities for future success be limited just because his parents’ – too often a single parent’s – income was too small to write that big tuition check so they could have a private-school education like their wealthier peers living in a different zip code enjoyed?
Unfortunately, a great amount of credible research confirms that poor, especially minority, children disproportionately find themselves in the lowest-performing public schools – a fact obviously not lost on this group of concerned Louisville leaders.
The group decided to start an organization that raises funds privately to give low-income parents in their community the choice of being able to help their own children rise above the throes of poverty, giving them a brighter future by enrolling them in a more suitable school with the help of the School Choice Scholarships program.
The results continue to demonstrate the amazing results of giving parents – yes, even poor, often dysfunctional ones – the power of choosing where their children attend schools. For example, the proportion of students proficient in grade-level mathematics increases, on average, from 28 percent to 81 percent and reading proficiency skyrockets from 40 percent to 96 percent after just three years in the program.
But this is a program that’s been limited by the amount of funding it can raise from the private sector. Still, in recent years, it has placed as many as 345 children from Jefferson and Oldham counties in 51 different schools.
Among the program’s earliest participants were Sylvie Umuhoza and her younger sister, Pacifique, who were 10 and under 5 years old, respectively, when they were rescued from their home in the jungles of Rwanda by their grandmother, who literally carried them across that war-torn nation and into the Congo, where they escaped rampant death and disease.
The girls eventually landed in the River City where both, thanks to School Choice Scholarships combined with the lovingkindness of an elderly couple who took them in, escaped a lifetime of certain poverty by receiving the kind of education that allowed Sylvie, for example, to grow from not even knowing the English language to delivering the commencement address while graduating in 2015 with a master’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University.
If a small, nonprofit organization can raise enough private funding in 20 years to grant more than $7 million in scholarships to more than 6,500 low-income children in grades K-8 just in Jefferson and Oldham counties imagine what could happen with a scholarship tax-credit policy that offers the opportunity of a private education to thousands of children and their families across the entire commonwealth, including around 3,000 parents on School Choice Scholarship’s waiting list?
You can be a hero to thousands of children and their families by prioritizing scholarship tax credits found in the Opportunities in Education Act during the 2018 session of the Kentucky General Assembly.
You can also be a hero to taxpayers as these programs in 18 other states have demonstrated the ability to offer state tax credits to businesses and individuals, produce scholarships for children like Sylvie and Pacifique Umuhoza, all with a program that will pay for itself, including:
- Shifting education costs to private institutions using private dollars.
- Raising an estimated $1.5 million in additional tax revenue for Kentucky by allowing individuals and businesses to contribute to tuition-granting organizations in a manner which lowers the state’s overall tax liability but prohibits contributors from claiming those credits as federal and state deductions in a manner which results in refunds greater than their donations.
- Increasing cash flow to the commonwealth by an estimated $2 million due to savings from smaller public-school class sizes and the aforementioned additional tax revenue.
- Producing an estimated positive net, state, local-taxpayer and school-district impact of more than $15 million.
Since its founding 15 years ago, the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s first and only free market think tank, has been the leading voice both for responsible spending through fiscally sound policies and parental school-choice programs ensuring no Kentucky child is left behind.
We respectfully ask that even during these tough budget times, you support a scholarship tax-credit policy, which will help our beloved commonwealth achieve both of those important results.
Please feel free to contact the Bluegrass Institute for more information on this school-choice policy by replying to this email or by contacting me at (270) 320-4376.
Thank you for your committed service to the commonwealth.
Jim Waters, President and CEO
Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions