Louisville, Ky., Mar 12, 2019 / 03:05 pm (CNA).- Creating a Scholarship Tax Credit program in Kentucky would align with Catholic teaching by assisting families in need and empowering parents to make decisions about their children’s education, said Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville.
“The reality is that educational choice already exists in Kentucky, but sadly, not for Kentucky’s most vulnerable students,” the archbishop said.
“Scholarship Tax Credit legislation would allow more families to exercise this right and provide Kentucky children with equal opportunities.”
Kurtz wrote a March 11 opinion piece in the Courier Journal, responding to an earlier opinion piece by Rep. Jim Wayne (D), who said the tax credit proposal, House Bill 205, was incompatible with Catholic social teaching.
Under House Bill 205, Kentucky residents would be able to receive tax breaks by donating to the scholarship programs of private schools, including religious schools. The money would then go toward tuition assistance for students at those schools. With $25 million available in tax credits, residents would receive tax breaks equal to the amount they donated, up to $1 million.
Sponsored by Rep. John Carney (R), the bill was introduced on Feb. 5. On Monday, Carney said the legislation faced an uphill battle, acknowledging it would likely not receive the votes it needs to pass, according to Lexington Herald Leader.
Rep. Wayne argued that Catholic schools are often unequipped to accept children with special needs and that “only the public school system can include all children.”
“A hallmark of Catholic social teaching is the responsibility to assess every public policy through this lens: How will the policy affect the poor? If the poor are hurt, the policy is immoral,” he said, writing in the Courier Journal.
Wayne said he disagrees with taking money away from the state’s public school system. He also argued that the bill would violate the principle of separation of church and state.
Archbishop Kurtz disagreed that the policy will harm the poor and is therefore incompatible with Catholic teaching. Because it is mandated in Kentucky that more than half of the aid will support students with high financial needs, he said, the money will go to “families whose incomes are below the reduced-lunch threshold, students with special needs and students within Kentucky’s foster care system.”
“Once that mandate is met, scholarships are allowed to go to students whose family income is no higher than 200 percent above the reduced-lunch threshold. In keeping with the Catholic tradition of helping those who need it most, participants will receive aid proportionate to their level of need,” he said.
Kurtz said that while he respects public schools, some students best thrive in other education systems and it should be up to the parents to decide where to send them. Citing Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia, he said education is the “primary right” of the parents.
“The government’s role is to support the parents in the exercise of this right, not to replace them,” he said.
Kurtz said the program has been successful in other states. He pointed to Florida, which has the biggest Scholarship Tax Credit program in the United States, covering more than 100,000 students each year.
“When the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results were released, Florida’s public schools made more progress than those in any other state,” he said.
“Florida students with special needs and from across racial and economic lines succeeded in showing improvement on these tests. And, it is not only the public schools that have experienced success.”
The archbishop emphasized that he is not seeking to “impose a religious education on every family,” but said that the Catholic faith supports “helping those in greatest need.”