National School Choice Week

Leisha Garland - Guest Columnist

I was born in Appalachia, in a rural mountain town with limited educational resources. My parents never had the opportunity to pursue higher education themselves, but they were resourceful, hard-working and valued their children’s education. When I finally earned my degrees, it was a dream come true for all of us, but it was a dream that took blood, sweat and tears even as a young child.

Since then, my husband and I have had the privilege of supervising the education of our three children and two god-children — across four states and nine schools. It was important to us that at each step along the way, we found the right avenue to educate them, and each required different opportunities. While we were fortunate enough to be able to make these educational choices for our children, I knew from my own childhood experience and what I observed over the years, that not every parent is fortunate enough to be able to make these choices. Having lived through both experiences, a child in a family that couldn’t afford educational choices and a parent fortunate enough to be able to give the opportunity of a quality education that matched my children’s needs, it is evident to me that our education system is in need of major restoration. No child’s education should be forfeited due to lack of choice.

All Kentucky students deserve the opportunity to succeed but, unfortunately, our current system is impeded by a lack of choice in education and a lack of resources to ensure that every Kentucky student has the opportunity to receive the best education possible.

Kentucky must fix this deficiency and inequality in our education system, and one opportunity to do so is with a Scholarship Tax Credit program. One group that supports this type of program is EdChoice Kentucky, a coalition of educators, business owners and citizens who want more choices for Kentucky students. The coalition recently conducted a poll on the issue and found that Kentucky voters give Scholarship Tax Credits a strong positive rating, 73 percent favorable – only 11 percent unfavorable, with nearly half (47 percent) of the voters having a “very favorable” impression. Seven in ten (70 percent) Kentuckians support educational choice with a near majority (47 percent) “strongly” in favor and just 26 percent opposed. You can read more about the poll on their website at

Legislators are currently reviewing this proposal which was introduced by Sen. Ralph Alvarado and is named “Opportunities in Education.” It creates a nonrefundable tax credit for donations to scholarship granting organizations or a fund to improve public schools. The legislation would help improve our education system to give all students the opportunity to succeed. It would give parents a choice, regardless of their economic standing, when deciding where to send their children to school.

A child’s education should not and must not be jeopardized because of their socio-economic status. Wealthy families already have school choice, as they can choose to move to a different public school district or pay tuition for nonpublic schools; but poor families lack those choices, and providing greater access to scholarships can help level the playing field. If these students desire to achieve, our current system should not prohibit them from accomplishing their dreams. Whether a parent wants to choose a nonpublic or public school, this bill would equip them with resources to make that decision. We must work together to ensure that all children have the opportunity to obtain the education they deserve at a school of their choice. Let’s pursue excellence in education and enact the Scholarship Tax Credit proposal in Kentucky.

Leisha Garland resides in Somerset. She and her husband own an engineering consulting firm. She holds a BS and MS in engineering technology and volunteers her time to improve education in southern Kentucky.

Leisha Garland

Guest Columnist

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