Kentucky legislature is resurrecting failed “school choice” bills — under different names

It would be a lit­tle more forth­right and infor­ma­tive if the infor­ma­tion about the bills on school choice being intro­duced in the 2022 Kentucky leg­isla­tive ses­sion were more truth­ful about the intent of the bills.

And it would cer­tain­ly be help­ful if sen­a­tors and rep­re­sen­ta­tives would be more truth­ful in select­ing the labels for their bills.  More on that in a moment.

The bills being pro­posed in the 2022 Kentucky leg­is­la­ture for school choice are essen­tial­ly the same House bill 563 that was passed in the 2021 ses­sion, vetoed by the gov­er­nor, and declared uncon­sti­tu­tion­al by the Kentucky Supreme Court in October.  House bill 563 was sim­ply labeled “AN ACT relat­ing to education.”

It was actu­al­ly an act relat­ing to shift­ing pub­lic school fund­ing to be used to sup­port tuitions to pri­vate (the pro­po­nents of these bills pre­fer to use the label “non-pub­lic” as if that would take the onus off the pro­pos­als) insti­tu­tions, but then you’d have to read the bill to dis­cov­er that.

Because of wide­spread oppo­si­tion to the lib­er­al move­ment of those pub­lic funds, the orig­i­nal bill was altered to be applied only in coun­ties with pop­u­la­tions greater than 90,000 — which would have includ­ed only nine Kentucky counties.

Senate Bill 50 (SB50), labeled “AN ACT relat­ing to edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ty account” would remove the coun­ty pop­u­la­tion require­ment, dou­ble the cred­it cap, and remove the orig­i­nal five-year sun­set pro­vi­sion.  Not only does this last pro­vi­sion make the act per­ma­nent, it allows the total amount of funds allo­cat­ed to the pro­gram to expand, there­by suck­ing more cash from the pub­lic school system.

The acts also stip­u­late that the funds are to be “avail­able to stu­dents in the precincts in which they are enrolled.”  This means that par­ents and stu­dents can search wher­ev­er they choose, even out­side their home coun­ty, to find the school of their choice.

Both the Senate and House bills pro­pose to raise the allow­able income lev­els to which funds can be applied, so there’s no longer any truth to the asser­tion that the act is one direct­ed to the poor­er res­i­dents of Kentucky.  What it actu­al­ly accom­plish­es is to increase the pool from which eli­gi­ble stu­dents can be drawn, mak­ing it more oppor­tunis­tic for non-pub­lic schools to increase their pres­ence in the state and for those already here to draw more pub­lic tax funds to their own use.

And there appears to be noth­ing in any of these bills which relates to the account­abil­i­ty of non-pub­lic schools under these pro­vi­sions to meet state edu­ca­tion requirements.

The KEA has opposed these school choice bills in the past and con­tin­ues to do so because the orga­ni­za­tion real­izes that the state is and always has been slow to pro­vide the nec­es­sary fund­ing to its pub­lic school sys­tem and that the cre­ation of approval of these school choice bills will fur­ther reduce those funds to schools which edu­cate 90% of Kentucky’s children.

Authors of these bills read­i­ly acknowl­edge that Kentucky schools are “won­der­ful.”  They sug­gest that pub­lic schools are just not the “right fit” for everyone.

If they are not the right fit, par­ents have the oppor­tu­ni­ty – as they always have had – to place their chil­dren wher­ev­er they choose, and to pay for doing so.  And if the non-pub­lic schools can­not accom­mo­date these stu­dents with­out pub­lic fund­ing they should either go out of busi­ness or find oth­er meth­ods of pro­vid­ing the funds with­out rely­ing on Kentucky taxpayers.

Most Kentucky schools are doing a superb job with the funds pro­vid­ed to them.  Why make it more dif­fi­cult with these unnec­es­sary bills instead of find­ing means of expand­ing the fund­ing to them to make them more a “right fit” for all students?

  • Chuck Witt

    Chuck is a retired archi­tect, a for­mer news­pa­per colum­nist, and a life­long res­i­dent of Winchester.