Wednesday, January 19, 2000

Tax credit for non-public school kids revisited in Ky.

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FORT WRIGHT — Parents who send their children to nonpublic schools would benefit from a tax credit being proposed by the Kentucky League for Educational Alternatives.

        The tax credit would be valued at $500 for families with an adjusted gross income of up to $75,000. That amounts to about $12 million statewide.

        “This would be a major break for parents in deciding whether or not they can send their children to a nonpublic school,” said Harry Boarders, league director.

        The idea never made it to the legislative floor in 1998, but supporters say increased backing — at least 40 legislators so far — could put the issue before the 2000 General Assembly.

        Past efforts to win approval for tax credits have drawn opposition from organizations such as the Kentucky School Boards Association. Opponents say the credits would undermine already underfunded public schools.

        There are more than 60,000 students in 200 nonpublic schools in Kentucky. The league represents Catholic, Baptist and other Christian schools, and private schools

        with no religious affiliation.

        A tax credit would be direct financial aid to a student's family, with the money never going into state coffers, effectively avoiding the church-state conflict, said Lawrence Bowman, director of education for the Diocese of Covington.

        “We in the private sector believe strongly in the right of parents to choose the education best suited for their kids,” Dr. Bowman said. “And tax credits directly in the hands of parents would make the choice more available.”

        For Therese Bottonari, mother of two children in Catholic schools, the tax credit idea is a good start.

        “I do feel that each year the tuition costs are rising, and that does concern me,” said Mrs. Bottonari, who has one child at St. Agnes School in Fort Wright and another at Notre Dame Academy in Park Hills.

        Tuition at private schools can cost several thousand dollars.

        At St. Agnes, parishioners pay $2,300 a year, Principal Linda Groh said. Families with more than one child at the school receive a discount, and there is a tuition assistance program for those who qualify. Tuition for nonparishioners is $2,600.

        The school serves 550 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

        The school's budget is pretty tight, Ms. Groh said, and the Parent Teacher Organization provides extra financial assistance through fund-raising efforts.

        Mrs. Bottonari, who volunteers on the Kentucky League for Educational Alternatives' advisory board, said she is proud of the schools her children attend and glad she has a choice of schools.

        “I do pay my taxes for public schools and then I also pay tuition, and that is my choice,” Mrs. Bottonari said. “I'm happy with that choice, but I also feel that there are states such as Ohio where tax dollars, millions of tax dollars, go to Catholic and private schools.”

        Supporters of the Kentucky measure cite the success of similar tax credit programs in other states.

        Arizona, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota provide tax credits. The Supreme Court in October upheld Arizona's policy, which gives $500 tax breaks to people who donate money for scholarships at religious and other private schools.

        Minnesota's aid has increased from $150 tax credits to $2,000 credits.

        Kentucky Reps. Larry Clark, D-Louisville, and Bob Heleringer, R-Louisville, met in October with Gov. Paul Patton and the state's Catholic bishops to discuss the tax credit.

        Mr. Patton did not indicate support or opposition.

        Mr. Heleringer is working on bill language. He wants to secure more bipartisan support before filing it.

        Mrs. Bottonari said legislators are taking the right action.

        “It gives me hope for the future that Catholic and private schools will remain an affordable choice and not a privilege,” she said.


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