FRANKFORT, Ky. — House Bill 563 could mark a major shift in how public education works in Kentucky.
What You Need To Know
- House passes bill that requires public school districts to accept students from another district, as long as they’re not at capacity
- It also tweaks the school funding formula so funding follows the student
- The second main part of the bill creates a tax credit for people who donate to what’s known as an education opportunity account
- Every Democrat voted against the bill in a 51-45 vote
“At the end of the day, it was our intent to try and help kids,” said House Speaker David Osborne (R-Prospect).
The bill requires public school districts to accept students from another district, as long as they’re not at capacity.
It also tweaks the school funding formula so funding follows the student.
The second main part of the bill creates a tax credit for people who donate to what’s known as an education opportunity account. These are run by private groups that provide grants for families to pay for school expenses.
“This is the perfect bill that’s going to give underprivileged kids an opportunity to go out there and do whatever mom and dad think they need to do to help them be educated,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Chad McCoy (R-Bardstown).
House Bill 563 isn’t a school voucher bill where taxpayers' dollars could go directly to private schools, but several public education advocates worry this bill will lead to that.
Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman led a group that spoke out against it before the House vote.
“Our educators deserve to be heard, their work to be valued, and their classrooms to be fully funded,” Coleman said.
Kentucky Education Association president Eddie Campbell said schools need more funding, not tax breaks like what’s included in House Bill 563.
“House Bill 563 proves that our legislators have no intent of meeting their constitutional obligation of fully funding our schools adequately,” Campbell said.
Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass said he welcomes discussion on any bill that provides more funding for education, but this isn’t the right bill to do that.
“This tax scheme is half-baked at best,” Glass said.
McCoy said the bill is designed so grant money from the education opportunity accounts specifically does not go to wealthier families.
“It’s money going to help poor people in Kentucky get a better education for their children. This is not hard. This is not scary. We are the only state in the southeastern part of the United States that doesn’t have this stuff,” McCoy said. “It’s going to start being an economic development issue for us. We’re going to start losing. We already got a crappy tax structure that we can’t fix, this is just one more thing stopping Kentucky from being as good as it can be.”
Every Democrat voted against the bill in a 51-45 vote. Before debate ended, 20 amendments were proposed to the bill, although only a few were even called to a vote and only three amendments passed.
A floor amendment by Rep. Jerry Miller (R-Louisville), would allow grant money to go toward private schools in counties where the population is more than 150,000 people: Jefferson, Fayette, and Kenton counties.
Democrats voiced opposition to the amendment as well.
“I think it’s really disingenuous to bring a bill that says only poor kids in Louisville, Lexington, and Kenton County deserve this help you think they need,” said House Minority Floor Leader Joni Jenkins (D-Shively).
Osborne said people in Kentucky’s three most-populated counties are pushing for help to pay for private schools.
“I think that there was a belief that, well, if we can’t help every county, then let’s try to help those that have probably been asking for it the most and are most disproportionately affected, whether it be poverty or minority populations,” Osborne said.
Rep. Buddy Wheatley (D-Covington) represents Kenton County and worries the bill will create an unlevel playing field for the counties surrounding his.
A different amendment to House Bill 563 would fund all-day kindergarten.
It could complicate the bill’s future though because of how much that could cost, possibly as much as $125 million per year according to some lawmakers, the Kentucky constitution says it needs 60% approval instead of a simple majority in both chambers.
The amended bill would have to survive a vote in the Senate and be voted on again in the House, where it did not clear the 60-vote threshold the first time around, before heading to the governor.
Lawmakers only have five more working days left in the session.