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NKY Superintendents Join Together in Fight Against Legislation

Leaders of every school district in Northern Kentucky joined together on Monday to speak out against House Bill 205, currently being considered by the Kentucky General Assembly in Frankfort.

The bill, sponsored by House Majority Floor Leader John "Bam" Carney (R-Campbellsville), seeks to create scholarship tax credits. Those tax credits would be applied to those who donate to scholarships for private schools. It would allow up to $25 million in tax breaks for the donations which would be designed to offset the cost of private schools for low-income students, increasing school choice options.

Local superintendents argue that the funding takes away from public schools.

Several Northern Kentucky superintendents took to Twitter over the weekend to blast the bill and on Monday joined together in a news conference hosted at the Northern Kentucky Cooperative for Educational Services (NKCES).

The bill in question could be called into committee as early as Tuesday morning as the General Assembly session begins to wind down.

“To have every superintendent in this region here today shows you how concerned we are with the Scholarship Tax Credit bill,” said Alvin L. Garrison, superintendent of Covington Independent Public Schools

Seventeen local school districts make up NKCES and all were represented at the event.

“If you have a child in public school, HB205 is an attack on you and your child,” said Dr. David A. Rust, superintendent of Campbell County Schools, speaking for all the superintendents. “It will deprive dollars to provide your child a quality education. It will deprive our ability to continue to expand our excellent public-school offerings and opportunities to our children.”

“Our opposition to HB 205 is not an argument against parent choice or against those who want to donate money to private schools,” Dr. Rust said. “It is an argument for adequate funding for public schools as mandated in the Kentucky constitution, and it is an argument against giving away more state general fund dollars when our public schools and districts are already woefully underfunded.”

The superintendents and NKCES noted in a news release after the event that Kentucky ranks third worst among all states in funding for public schools. K-12 education has suffered the deepest cuts over the past decade.

“Our state legislators beat their chests and bragged about increasing SEEK funding by $18 per student last year, to the highest level ever….and bragged about pumping more money into teacher pensions,” said Dr. Rust. “That was all true and we greatly appreciate it.

“What they failed to tell you is that they reduced all of the items previously mentioned, resulting in a net loss of tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars in many our districts. Districts saw fewer dollars to spend on students and teachers this year.”

In addition, last week the Kentucky Senate and House passed Senate Bill 1, the School Safety Bill, legislation applauded by the superintendents. However, all the measures discussed in the Safety Bill cannot be implemented next year due to a lack of funding

“At a time when school safety is on the minds of everyone associated with public education and funding is not available, a bill that will reduce the revenue in the state of Kentucky by $25 million dollars in the first year is unacceptable,” said Garrison. “Lawmakers across the Commonwealth have stated that they are committed to finding funding for our student’s safety.  It is, therefore, a direct conflict of interest and message to support yet another tax break that will reduce the revenue in our state.”

An impact study on a bill similar to HB205 that was introduced last year estimated the tax credit program would cost the state $50 million in lost revenue by its fourth year of implementation, a news release said.

The superintendents also argued that HB 205 would serve as a "back door" to steer millions of dollars from public schools, and would also be subject to a constitutional challenge.

“The claim that students leaving a public school to attend a private school actually saves money, is simply not true,” said Dr. Rust. “When enrollment drops for any reason, fixed and stranded operational costs always remain and continue to climb through simple inflation. When students leave public schools, the fixed costs do not leave with them.”

Based on research from other states, Dr. Rust estimated his Campbell County School District could lose 3 to 4 students per grade level if HB 205 were implemented. 

“A loss of three to four students per grade level would not create a need to reduce any teachers. I could not reduce my bus routes or cafeteria workers or instructional aides. And my utility costs won’t change and will likely still continue to increase with inflation,” he said. “Yet by losing those fifty students, I would lose $200,000 in state funding. That means this amount would have to be picked up by our local funding or by cutting programs.”

The superintendents also cited evidence from the state of Georgia that showed that tax-funded scholarships went to higher-income students and that at-risk students did not benefit.

“And let me be very clear,” Dr. Rust added, “I don’t anticipate any of our local private schools being willing to extend any of these scholarships to students with handicaps or learning disabilities. That has never been their mission, nor their history.’’

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher