School-choice advocates mount broader effort in Kentucky

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Hoping to rebound from a recent legal setback, school-choice advocates mounted a more ambitious effort Wednesday to allow public dollars to support students who aren’t attending public schools.

Advocates proposed a constitutional amendment that would allow state lawmakers to “provide for the educational costs of students” outside the public school system.

School-choice supporters want to place the proposal on the 2024 statewide ballot for voters to decide if it wins approval from the General Assembly.

The measure is likely to reignite a fierce policy battle over school choice in the GOP-trending Bluegrass State.

Last year, the Republican-dominated Legislature passed a measure that would have allowed a form of scholarship tax credits to start supporting private school tuition. The bill — opposed by many public school advocates — was limited in scope to apply to several of the state’s most populated counties. The measure was struck down in December by the state’s Supreme Court.

Now school-choice supporters are starting over with a more far-reaching effort. This time, the measure would apply statewide, unlike the restrictions of last year’s measure, supporters said.

Opponents warn that the bill would divert money away from public schools. They note that the state is struggling with a shortage of public school teachers, and that much more can be done to support public education.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear is pushing for a 5% pay raise for teachers and other public school employees to help overcome the shortage of classroom educators.

“So the Kentucky Supreme Court opinion, while a temporary setback, is actually going to be a really good thing for Kentucky students and Kentucky families going forward,” said Rep. Jason Nemes. “Because we’re going to have school choice in Kentucky, and it’s going to be mighty robust.”

Nemes, a member of House Republican leadership as majority whip, predicted the measure will reach the ballot, calling it a priority for the Legislature.

It’s part of an emerging legislative agenda aimed at giving parents more control over their children’s education, supporters said.

“It is our goal that every student in Kentucky have the opportunity to get the best education that fits their needs,” said Republican Rep. Josh Calloway, the proposal’s lead sponsor.

The budget that lawmakers passed last year funded full-day kindergarten — and poured money into teacher pensions and infrastructure. Lawmakers increased the state’s main funding formula for K-12 schools, though the amount was far short of what Beshear proposed. Their budget left it to school districts to decide whether to use additional state funding to raise school salaries. Most districts awarded raises, Republicans say, but the governor said more needs to be done to raise teacher pay.


The legislation is House Bill 174.

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