School Choice Advocate Charles H. Leis honored
After more than two decades of advocacy by a host of dedicated people, the choice of school will become a reality in Kentucky in the months to come, as newly enacted legislation will result in an education opportunity accounts program. .
The Bishops of Kentucky celebrated this long-awaited achievement on May 19 by recognizing the man who they believe brought the legislation home.
Charles H. Leis, president of EdChoice KY, took the reins of school choice in 2016 after retiring from a commercial career. He led the charge full time, with the same vigor that he gave to his career, according to those who have observed his work.
“You have given your life these years to this work,” Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz told Leis in a brief ceremony in his honor. “Thank you with all my heart for all the good work you have done.”
Archbishop Kurtz, who attended the ceremony from a distance, said Leis often reminded bishops, “’When this is passed, this is where the work will begin.’ Well, our job only starts because Charlie’s job never stopped.
The Education Opportunity Accounts program will allow families to receive grants for education services, funded by donations made to certain non-profit organizations, such as the Catholic Foundation for Education. Individuals and businesses that donate to these organizations will benefit from a tax credit.
Families across the state can receive help paying for services, such as therapy for children with special needs and technology. The bill also gives families living in counties of over 90,000 people access to needs-based tuition assistance for non-public schools.
Leis was quick to say that the success of the school selection legislation was a team effort and credited the efforts of Andrew Vandiver, who worked on the staff of the Kentucky Catholic Conference, and by Leisa Schulz, superintendent of schools of the archdiocese. She represented non-public schools in her advocacy for school choice.
Leis also noted how difficult the effort seemed at times.
“Every time you turned a corner, another obstacle was there,” he said. “Sometimes I wondered when the curves would stop coming.”
But somehow some of those curved balls – hit the right way – became home runs.
Bishop William Medley of Owensboro and Bishop John Stowe of Lexington said Leis’ efforts brought hope to their schools. (Bishop Roger Foys of Covington was not present.)
“There is certainly a lot of hope in our Lexington schools as the pandemic emerges; there are certainly many needs, ”said Bishop Stowe, whose diocese has 13 Catholic primary schools and one Catholic secondary school.
After learning that the first choice of school law was introduced in 1998 in Kentucky, Bishop Medley said, “This is a lesson in patience. I am certainly happy. Its diocese has 14 Catholic elementary schools and three Catholic high schools.
Leisa Schulz said the legislation was passed “in God’s time, not ours”.
Now, she said, “Our Catholic schools can set an example to show the intentions of the law.”
Archbishop Kurtz, noting that parishes in the Archdiocese commit one percent of their income to support students in the Archdiocese, added that Leis’ effort places the Archdiocese “on a path of gratitude and generosity”.
“We are not focusing on the survival of the school, but on the possibility for the students to receive an education in faith and humanity,” he said.
Leis said he attended Catholic schools throughout his studies – from St. Paul School to Bishop David High School to Bellarmine University. His career was in business, but when his son was at Trinity High School he saw a need for improvement and decided there was a place for business in education, he said.
“I started to see how to apply business attributes to these schools, without changing the character… without making it a business,” he said.
“I started to see how you could apply the business attributes to these schools, without changing the character,” he said.
He served two terms on the board of directors of the Catholic Education Foundation. When he was hired to lead EdChoice KY, the vision for him was to bring a commercial dimension to the effort, rather than a political dimension, he said.
Vandiver, who has focused on legislative advocacy, said that at times when he felt like giving up, Leis raised him.
“Since 2018, we’ve hit major lows,” Vandiver said. “But Charlie allowed me to continue.”