Kentuckians would vote on putting public money into private schools under bill that moved from committee

Kentucky Lantern

FRANKFORT — Kentuckians could decide in November to let public money be spent on private schools — although the language put to voters wouldn’t be quite that straightforward — under a bill approved by a House committee Tuesday.

The House Committee on Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs voted 11-4 to send House Bill 2 to the full House for a vote.

Kentucky Education Association President Eddie Campbell testified against the proposed constitutional amendment, saying other states’ experiences show that educational vouchers and charter schools would drain money from the public school system. 

Campbell also pointed out that the proposed amendment “notwithstands” or suspends seven sections of Kentucky’s Constitution.

Rep. Josie Raymond, D-Louisville. (LRC Public Information)

Rep. Josie Raymond, D-Louisville, zeroed in on the measure’s “notwithstanding” the constitutional prohibition against special legislation, saying the legislature would be freed to “target one particular city or school district” such as Louisville. Republican lawmakers have long complained about what they say are shortcomings in the Jefferson County Public Schools.

In explaining her “no” vote, Raymond said, “This is leading us toward welfare for the wealthy. And this public school mom does not want my tax dollars going to private schools.”

The amendment that would appear on the ballot says: “The General Assembly may provide financial support for the education of students outside the system of common schools. The General Assembly may exercise this authority by law, Sections 59, 60, 171, 183, 184, 186, and 189 of this Constitution notwithstanding.”

Kentucky courts have consistently ruled that the 1891 Constitution prohibits state tax dollars going to educational institutions outside the “system of common schools.”

House Republican Caucus Chair Suzanne Miles of Owensboro, the bill’s primary sponsor, said questions about how public school funding could be affected is “for another time, another place”  and would depend on enabling legislation enacted by the General Assembly if voters approved the amendment..

 “I would like every child in the commonwealth to have the best options for them to succeed.”

Republican supporters of the amendment said it would enhance choices available to parents for their children and catch Kentucky up with other states that offer more “choice” in K-12 education.

Rep. Kevin Bratcher, R-Louisville. (LRC Public Information)

“We’re like a lone island in a lot of ways that we don’t explore different ways to educate the children of Kentucky,” said committee chair Kevin Bratcher, R-Louisville, explaining his support for the measure.

Rep. Josh Calloway, R-Irvington, said he was voting for the bill “because I support kids and every parent should be empowered to give their child the best education possible not matter what zip code they live in in the state of Kentucky.” Calloway is sponsoring House Bill 208, which also would put an amendment on the ballot that would allow public money to be spent in private schools.

Lexington Democrat Rep. Adrielle Camuel said the amendment’s language is “a little obfuscated and propagandistic” and fails to “let people know what they’ll be voting on.”

Asked if she would change the amendment’s wording to “should public money be allowed to go to private schools,” Miles said she supported no changes in the amendment.

House Bill 2

HB 2 PHS 1

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