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School Choice Bill Approved by House, Kenton Targeted in Private School Measure

Grade school students in Kentucky may soon have access to funds to allow them more choices in where they go to school.

The Kentucky House of Representatives approved House Bill 563 by a 51-45 vote late Thursday night following a three-hour debate on the House floor. One amendment to the bill approved by the house in a narrow vote limits the scope of its private school reach to Jefferson, Fayette, and Kenton counties, the state's three most populous.

The bill’s sponsor, House Majority Whip Rep. Chad McCoy (R-Bardstown) said HB 563 would allow students to use education opportunity accounts (EOAs) to attend a public school outside of his or her district. EOAs are a type of scholarship, and individuals or businesses who donate to organizations who issue EOAs would eligible for a tax credit under this bill.

McCoy said organizations that issue EOAs will be able to accept applications from families or individuals whose income level is at 175% of the reduced lunch level.

“These are truly the middle class and lower folks in our state,” McCoy added.

The bill lays out 12 things the money can be spent on, which includes public school tuition, fees, tutoring services, textbooks, uniforms and more.

McCoy said he heard there was a concern that HB 563 would be used for students looking to play sports at a school with a better team.

“… 563 is 100% intended to be for a good education,” McCoy said. “And so we’ve put in there that you cannot play sports for one year.”

Twenty House Floor Amendments were filed in relation to HB 563, but only a few were adopted.

House Floor Amendment 1, filed by McCoy, changed the bill to allow the state to fund full-day Kindergarten for every public school district in the Commonwealth.

Rep. James Tipton (R-Taylorsville) spoke in favor of the state funding full-day Kindergarten and called it a “wise investment.”

House Floor Amendment 20, filed by Rep. Jerry T. Miller (R-Eastwood) changes HB 563 to allow only students in Kentucky’s most populous counties —Jefferson, Fayette and Kenton Counties—to use EOAs to fund private school tuition.

Miller said there are 175,000 children living in poverty in those counties and this bill and his floor amendment is about choice.

“I cannot ignore the plight of the children in poverty in our three most populous counties whose parent would like to make the choice to move them to a school who better meets their needs,” Miller said.

House Floor Amendments 1 and 20 were adopted.

Rep. Josie Raymond (D-Louisville) who filed many floor amendments related to HB 563, wanted to change the bill to prohibit discrimination in schools accepting EOA payments, require background checks for education service providers and more. Her floor amendments failed and she ultimately voted against the legislation.

Rep. Derrick Graham (D-Frankfort) spoke against HB 563, calling for lawmakers to pass legislation to invest in public school education instead.

“Public education is the key to open the door to economic opportunity, especially when it is properly funded,” Graham said. “…. I urge you to defeat this bill. It is not the right bill for us to pass.”

In defending HB 563, McCoy said: “We are putting $125 million into public education. How can you not be for that?”

HB 563 will now move to the full Senate for consideration.

However, according to House Speaker Rep. David W. Osborne (R-Prospect), the bill in its current form will require at least 60 members of the House to vote in its favor before final passage due to the appropriation related to full-day Kindergarten.

How NKY lawmakers voted on the final bill:

Voting in favor: Rep. Kim Banta (R-Ft. Mitchell), Rep. Joe Fischer (R-Ft. Thomas), Rep. Adam Koenig (R-Erlanger), Rep. Savannah Maddox (R-Dry Ridge), Rep. Kim Moser (R-Taylor Mill), Rep. Sal Santoro (R-Florence).

Voting against: Rep. Ed Massey (R-Hebron), Rep. Rachel Roberts (D-Newport), Rep. Buddy Wheatley (D-Covington).

A Statement from Kentucky Education Association President Eddie Campbell on HB563:

“KEA strongly opposes HB563 because, despite claims to the contrary, it will be detrimental to Kentucky’s public schools. So-called “education opportunity accounts” are just another term for private-school vouchers. This is another example of legislators sneaking in an unpopular issue disguised as something else, just like the infamous ‘sewer’ bill in 2018. As we all know, that last-minute “bait and switch” maneuver sparked outrage from educators and the public.

“These private school vouchers take money directly out of our public schools which already are underfunded by the legislature. Instead of doing the right thing by public school students and families and putting needed dollars into school funding, the legislature is reducing state revenue by handing out tax breaks to big corporations and wealthy individual donors.

“There is plenty the legislature could actually do to address the inequity that has been so well documented during the pandemic.  But instead of dealing with the actual causes of those problems, they choose to give a tax break to the wealthy. We should be talking about access to reliable broadband for all students and families, or about fully funding school transportation and other critical programs, or about putting money into desperately needed textbooks and technology.  The list of needs in the Commonwealth – not just in public education – goes on and on. But instead of having any of those important and impactful conversations, we are talking about offering tax breaks to those who don’t need it.

“HB563 proves that legislators have no intention of meeting their constitutional obligations to fund public schools adequately and equitably. It’s a sham. And it’s also a shame.”

From the Legislative Research Commission with additional reporting by RCN staff

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