Controversial school choice bill passes through Kentucky legislature with opposition from educators

Published: Mar. 17, 2021 at 6:14 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Kentucky lawmakers passed a controversial school choice bill Tuesday that would make it easier for students to cross district lines to attend schools they select by creating a tax-credit scholarship fund to pay for educational expenses.

“The whole point of this bill is to try to give folks in our state that don’t have the means at least the opportunity to do what they think is best for their child and their child’s education,” Rep. Chad McCoy-Bardstown (R), the bill’s sponsor said.

House Bill 563 would create a $25 million tax-credit scholarship fund through business donations. Middle and lower-class families could then use that money to send their child to a school of their choosing, which could be a public school outside of the district where the family lives, or a private school in one of Kentucky’s three largest counties, Jefferson, Fayette and Kenton.

Andrew Vandiver, an Ed Choice Kentucky Board member told WAVE 3 News if passed, House Bill 563 could help many families who are looking to find the best fit school for their child, but wouldn’t normally have the means to do so.

“I hear from tons of families who are struggling financially,” Vandiver said. “Their kid is in a situation where they’re just not learning, they’re struggling; they would be better served in a different environment. We hear those stories all the time.”

However, JCPS educator Jay Matheney said the bill wouldn’t help families with the lowest incomes in the state, but instead ones who are in the middle class.

In order to qualify for the school-choice funding under House Bill 563, a family would be required to make 175 percent more than the reduced lunch level threshold. For example, a family of four would need to make around $85,000, according to Rep. McCoy.

After the first year in the program, the family’s income could increase up to 250 percent of the reduced lunch level threshold. That means the same family of four could make more than $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,” Matheney said.

“This bill is not about students,” he added. “This bill is about making sure the donors who back these politicians get their money, and there’s no other way around it. Because if it were about students of poverty, we would open up (the private school option) to every county instead of three.”

JCPS Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio agreed and told WAVE 3 News the bill would end up hurting public schools by further stripping them of much-needed funding.

“I’m the superintendent of the largest district in the state, but I’m an advocate for education in the Commonwealth of Kentucky as all superintendents are, and when you take $25,000,000 and invest it in other forms of education, it’s not coming into public education,” Pollio said.

Vandiver, however, pointed to many other states that have had success with similar school choice legislation for years, like Florida.

“There is a lot of ‘sky is falling’ rhetoric on the other side unfortunately, but what we know is this type of legislation has existed for decades in other states,” Vandiver said. “Things are going well for the students who use these programs, outcomes are improving, and the public schools are doing great.”

House Bill 563 passed both the House and Senate on Tuesday and now sits on Governor Andy Beshear’s desk, where he will likely veto the measure.

In that case, the majority Republican General Assembly could override the governor’s veto when the session resumes for two days at the end of March.

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