Kentucky’s controversial school choice bill passes over Beshear veto

One side says it’s a way to increase equity and access among low-income families. The other says it’s a handout to wealthy donors that will take millions away from public schools.
Kentucky’s controversial school choice bill passes over Beshear veto
Updated: Apr. 2, 2021 at 6:09 PM EDT
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KENTON COUNTY, Ky. (FOX19) - A supermajority of Kentucky lawmakers overrode Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto this week on a controversial school choice bill that promises to make it easier for students to attend private schools or cross district lines.

According to Beshear, the bill will siphon hundreds of millions from public education to unaccountable private organizations with little oversight.

House Bill 563 creates a $25 million tax-credit scholarship fund giving Kentucky families an option to send their kids to different school districts or private schools by paying for school tuition, tutoring and other educational expenses.

Only private schools in one of Kentucky’s three largest counties, including Kenton County, fall under the bill’s provisions.

Proponents like Lynn Schaber, who unsuccessfully tried to open a charter school in Newport in 2019, say the law opens up alternate avenues of educational attainment for families across the commonwealth. Schaber frames the issue as one of equity and access.

“I’ve always felt like people who have the economic means have more choice than people who don’t have the economic means, and in a way that’s a level of segregation based on income, and I think there’s a lot of families that would prefer to have other options, but they feel trapped,” Schaber argued.

But the bill’s income thresholds open it up to middle-income earners. Our sister station in Louisville, WAVE3 News, reports a family of four could make up to $85,000 in the first year and $120,000 while receiving money for school choice after the first year.

“Our state tax dollars are being redirected to benefit maybe 4,000 families, especially ones that make over $100,000 a year, and leaving a whole lot of students out in the cold,” public schools educator Jay Matheney told WAVE 3.

Beshear and Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman say the bill will divert significant public dollars, acting as a public subsidy for what Coleman described as “private shadow organizations” who can use up to 10 percent of the scholarship funds on employee salaries, benefits and expenses.

The Kentucky Association of School Superintendents also voiced opposition to what it described as “the privatization of public funds for education through tax credits for educational opportunity accounts.”

“This measure is a handout to wealthy donors,” Beshear said. “They would receive tax benefits even larger than charitable donation deductions and could even profit by transferring securities to the private educational institutions to avoid capital gains taxes.”

Elsmere resident and activist Chris Brown agrees, saying the $25 million tax credit program will benefit affluent school districts and private schools when it’s badly needed in the same disinvested, low-income districts from which the students will be coming.

“It looks like a great opportunity, because, hey, if you’re in a lower income area, you can ship them on out to a more affluent [area,] or you can put them in private school. You didn’t have that opportunity at first,” Brown said. “No one asked to be shipped across Kentucky. They asked for better educational solutions within their environment, and once they have received those opportunities in their environment, they can start to build that environment.”

Kentucky is now the 28th state with some form of school choice law.

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