Divided room debates private school scholarship tax credit bill

House Bill 205 doesn't go up for vote on Tuesday

FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - It’s not the same bill that prompted a teacher sickout across Kentucky last week, but a different piece of legislation put red shirts in seats Tuesday in Frankfort.

House Bill 205 would create a private school scholarship tax credit, which is something some public educators said would cut into their already-shrinking budgets.

Bill Sponsor and House Majority Leader Bam Carney said he believes the bill could make it out of committee, but wouldn’t get the 60 votes he thinks are needed to pass it.

Carney said there is some division among Republicans on the issue, especially those in rural districts that may not have as many private school options.

“At the end of the day, let’s all, myself included, tone down the rhetoric,” Carney said.

Carney started and ended a committee meeting with a call for calm, as teachers in red sat behind him, across the way from the yellow scarfs worn by the bill’s supporters.

That surrounded a sometimes emotional debate over House Bill 205, which would give a tax break to those who donate to a private school scholarship program.

Parents testified Tuesday about how their children, who have learning disabilities and would rather choose to go to private schools, would benefit from the bill, adding that more scholarships would lessen the financial burden on them.

“I now work 60 hours a week, I work seven days a week to make sure my son gets to go to the school he needs to go to,” Robert Sexton, a parent, said. “If this scholarship tax credit is passed, it will help me to be able to spend more time with my son while he’s in high school.”

Those against HB 205, said the tax breaks, which could total around $25 million statewide in their first year, would draw funds away from public schools. Opponents added that while public schools might have fewer students to teach, the decrease in tax revenue would not be enough to cover some fixed costs that remained.

“We would see no reduction in teachers needed, we would see no reduction in bus routes needed, we would see no reduction in utility costs,” said Matt Thompson, the Montgomery County Schools Superintendent. “The result of that is that local funding would have to pick up the reduction we see in (Support Education Excellence in Kentucky) funding.”

KEA President Stephanie Winkler was among those testifying against the legislation, as well as superintendents from across the state and economists, who said the bill’s effects and the division it’s already caused are both reasons it’s bad for Kentucky.

“I mean, all of Kentucky, we’re better than this,” Dayton Independent Schools Superintendent Jay Brewer said. “I mean we’re sitting in a room divided over our children; we’re better than this.”

When asked whether the entirety of House Bill 205 would be slid into another, more popular revenue bill for passage, Carney said he couldn’t comment on that.

“I can’t say anything on that at this time,” he said. “I think, right now, the focus is trying to keep the bill on its merits, continue to educate people on the process.”

Winkler said she hopes legislators have learned their lesson after facing blowback for similar moves last year.

“Give things their due diligence,” Winkler said. “Do things in a transparent way and not to try to sneak things in, in a back-door way, in a conference committee where constituencies can’t give input.”

Both sides disagreed on how well current education funding is meeting students’ needs.

Carney said that amendments to HB 525, the bill that prompted the teacher sick-out related to the teacher pension board, are still in the works.

He said that process is happening across party lines.

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