Most Kentuckians, I would be willing to wager, agree with the Jeffersonian view of a public education. It provides an aristocracy that everyone can join.

In 2019, Democrat Andy Beshear ran against a failed Republican incumbent governor who disrespected educators and attacked our public education system. Teachers put Beshear over the top.

Recently, novice Republican State Senator Jason Howell proclaimed that he ”would like to blow up the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA).” He gave no reason, but he must be part of that “repeal and replace” gang without any idea what/how to replace “it.”

On a recent educators Zoom call, Republican Rep. Mary Beth Imes proclaimed that she supports teachers, saying “my daughter is a public-school teacher.” But like we have all been told, actions speak louder than words. Imes voted for HB 563, the “Defund Public Education So We Can Give the Money Away” bill.

You’ve heard of the fake “Stop the Steal” campaign from a few months ago? Stopping HB 563 is the REAL Stop the Steal from our public schools.

Beshear stops the steal with a veto

Governor Beshear heard the call to stop this steal. He vetoed HB 563.

“If it becomes law, this measure will greatly harm public education in Kentucky, by taking money away from public schools and sending it to unaccountable private organizations with little oversight. To make matters worse, the bill would drain as much as $25 million from public education. Folks, that is more than they requested in textbooks and technology for your kids for this year,” declared Gov. Beshear.

He also added, “It gives tax benefits to investors larger than charitable donation deductions, and people could even profit by transferring securities to the private education institutions, to avoid capital gains.”

“The General Assembly has abandoned its obligation under the Constitution, ‘to provide for an efficient system of common schools throughout the state.’ ”

Stop the steal that puts money for schools into a slush fund

Under HB 563, a veiled voucher program, redundant private educational intermediaries called Account Granting Organizations (AGO) will be given $25 million in diverted public school dollars, and then these privately controlled AGOs will decide who gets those tax dollars.

HB 563 will take $25 million out of the budget to create Educational Scholarships, which are funds families can use to attend a different school. There were three bad things about the bill, listed in an earlier article by Bruce Maples:

  • It uses the $25M to give tax credits to wealthy people who “donate” into the scholarship fund.
  • A tax credit is a one-for-one reduction in taxes, so if a person donates $5,000, they get $5,000 taken off their taxes.
  • And if they donate stock, they get the same credit PLUS they don’t have to pay capital-gains tax.

Perhaps the most corrupt part – before the AGO spends a single dollar on students, they can spend 10% of funding, up to $2.5 million, on employee salaries, benefits, and other broadly defined expenses. They can also develop a growing carry forward of tax dollars and contract with financial management firms to play with the funds.

It is not hard to imagine what will be done to expand the “pot of gold” slush fund available to AGOs.

Stop the steal from our rural counties

HB 563 dollars will flow to private schools with a focus on only THREE counties: Fayette, Jefferson, and Kenton counties – counties with a population greater than 90,000.

In essence, the bill will take that $25 million from the entire state and channel it to private schools in the state’s three most affluent counties, leaving rural, lower-income communities behind.

But never fear, voucher fans: outside of those three counties, some funds will still be diverted to private schools – for uniforms, instructional materials, curricula, hardware and software, tutoring, educational therapies, after school programs, and college test prep courses.

What’s that sound you hear? It’s the sucking sound of the HB 563 black hole, sucking public-school dollars out of Kentucky.

And get this – while regular funding for public schools must be appropriated in each two-year budget, this new private school tax credit of up to $25 million a year will be automatically funded for the next 5 years – a commitment of $125 million.

Since the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA), with its equalizing funding formula and large infusion of dollars into low-income districts, Kentucky has had improved student achievement in poorer communities – a model for the nation.

Meanwhile, Republicans have been chomping at the bit to subsidize private schooling for decades.

But studies have shown that voucher programs in Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, and Washington D.C. have hurt student achievement, often leading to moderate to large declines.

This is no time to take money from our public schools, especially when we say we don’t have enough money in the budget to pay for text books. (Which, by the way, the $25 million would more than cover.)

This is no time to hand millions of public dollars to private corporations with no oversight and no accountability.

And this is no time to trust our children’s education to half-baked “choice” arguments that actually lead to less achievement and more inequities across the state and between rural and urban.

When they reconvene next week, the choice for our legislators is simple: they must Stop the Steal!


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Marshall Ward taught high school history and economics for twenty years in Charleston, SC. He then moved to Murray, KY, where he taught AP history for seventeen years. He also taught at the Murray State Commonwealth Honors Academy, and was a supervising teacher for numerous student teachers from MSU.

He is the former president of the Calloway County Retired Teachers Association, and serves on the executive council of the Kentucky Retired Teachers Association. In addition to writing for Forward Kentucky, he is a columnist for the Murray Ledger and Times.


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