Institute for Justice · June 9, 2021

FRANKFORT, Ky.—Today, the Institute for Justice (IJ)  moved to intervene on behalf of Florence, Kentucky, parent Akia McNeary and Newport, Kentucky, great-grandparent Nancy Deaton to defend Kentucky’s bold new school choice program, the Education Opportunity Account (EOA) Program, from a lawsuit filed Monday. IJ is the nation’s leading advocate for school choice, having won 24 school choice litigation fights, including three at the U.S. Supreme Court, the most recent of which was the landmark decision Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue in 2020.

The Council for Better Education (CBE), a group representing Kentucky public school districts, filed the lawsuit late Monday following the Kentucky General Assembly’s override of Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto on March 29. The lawsuit ignores the fact that the EOA Program is funded by private donations, not public dollars; that it funds families, rather than schools; and that the General Assembly has the constitutional power to provide for greater educational opportunity for Kentucky’s schoolchildren. The lawsuit’s arguments echo arguments made in many other unsuccessful legal challenges to school choice programs throughout the country. IJ anticipates that the success of the EOA Program will generate calls for its expansion throughout Kentucky.

“Kentucky’s Education Opportunity Account Program is constitutional and will empower families to choose the best education for their child,” IJ Senior Attorney Michael Bindas said. “The lawsuit challenging the program is nothing more than an attempt by the education establishment to deny greater alternatives and opportunity to Kentucky children.”

Akia McNeary, whom IJ will represent in its defense of EOAs in Kentucky, plans to use an EOA toward her children’s education next year. She’s seen firsthand how her fifth-grade son has thrived in private school after falling behind at his local public school. So she would like to use an EOA toward his private-school tuition and to pay for her daughter’s tuition at the same school when she starts kindergarten next fall.

Until this year, Kentucky was among a minority of states without an educational choice program. But with the EOA Program, Kentucky has one of the strongest educational choice programs in the country. Families earning up to 175% of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s reduced-price lunch threshold are eligible for funding from the program, which will come from voluntary donor contributions rather than public funds.

“All schools don’t fit for all children,” said Akia McNeary. “Some need smaller classroom settings. It’s not a one-size-fits-all for every child.”

Under the EOA Program, Kentucky parents can spend their EOA funds to best fit their children’s needs, including for private school tuition, tutoring services, online programs and more.

“States have the constitutional authority to offer alternatives to the public-school system,” said IJ Attorney Milad Emam. “That’s what Kentucky did: It provided for alternatives for families in need. We look forward to vigorously defending Kentucky’s EOA program in Court.”

The Institute for Justice, the nation’s leading legal advocate for educational choice, is currently defending choice programs in Nevada, Tennessee and North Carolina and is challenging the exclusion of religious schools from Maine’s, New Hampshire’s and Vermont’s town tuitioning programs. IJ has won three times at the U.S. Supreme Court for educational choice on behalf of parents in defense of Cleveland, Ohio’s, Arizona’s and Montana’s educational choice programs.