John Schaaf: Beware a radical KY constitutional amendment in the works Skip to content

John Schaaf: Beware a radical KY constitutional amendment in the works

Corporate school lobbyists want private operators to get a foot in the door and a hand in the pocket of Kentucky taxpayers

3 min read

If you’re tired of endless political ads on television, radio, and social media, just wait until next year when corporate lobbyists try to grab Kentucky tax dollars for privately-run charter schools.

After years of defeats in the Kentucky Supreme Court, lobbyists and private school operators will attempt to push a radical constitutional amendment onto the 2024 ballot.

For over 100 years, the Kentucky Constitution has protected taxpayers by prohibiting state government from spending public money on private schools.

Unfortunately, foreign corporations and dark money political organizations are spending big bucks on campaign contributions and lobbyists to push for a change in the state Constitution to allow billions of tax dollars to flow into private schools operated by those corporations.

Earlier this year, the lobbyists made a trial run in the General Assembly with House Bill 174, which would’ve put the constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot. It didn’t pass, but it will be back in January.

The amendment would allow politicians to spend state tax money to pay for the education of students who are not in public schools.

If the amendment’s adopted next year, Kentuckians will see a large chunk of their sales and income tax payments taken from public education and funneled into private schools.

Unlike public schools, these corporate schools are not accountable to locally elected school boards. Instead, they answer to hedge funds and other Wall Street investors who demand maximum profits from the schools.

Nationwide, those corporations and their dark money front groups have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions to create the illusion that taxpayers should pay for schools that compete with traditional public and private schools.

In Frankfort, corporate school lobbyists want private operators to get a foot in the door and a hand in the pocket of Kentucky taxpayers.

When government throws public money at private schools, it comes at the expense of Kentucky’s public schools, which are the heart of communities across the state.

In every Kentucky community, public schools employ teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, coaches, counselors, maintenance workers, and principals. And schools spend locally to maintain buildings, buses, cafeterias, chemistry labs, athletic facilities, and libraries.

Students, families, friends, and businesses throughout Kentucky support and attend school activities such as sports events, science fairs, school plays, and music shows.

If public schools lose state support, the burden of paying for the schools will increasingly fall on local school boards, which will be forced to substantially raise school taxes just to keep schools open.

There will be deep cuts, because local taxes won’t be enough to make up for the loss of state dollars. Employees will lose jobs, and activities such as basketball, football, other sports teams, marching bands, drama and art classes, and libraries will have to go.

In other states, the types of voucher programs or “charter schools” that these lobbyists want in Kentucky have been hugely unsuccessful in their stated goal of “improving education.” Typically, the programs benefit wealthy families in heavily populated areas by helping them pay for private schools their children are already attending.

In less populated areas, private school operators may open experimental schools with poorly paid and unqualified teachers.

Once opened, it’s hard to stop the substandard “education” offered in these for-profit schools, until many students have wasted valuable years not learning as much as students in well-established public and private schools. Meanwhile, taxpayers are ripped off because they’re paying for unnecessary duplication.

When the U.S. Department of Education commissioned a rigorous study of charter school performance, the study found that charter schools have no overall positive effect on education.

School privatization wastes tax money and fails, even though charter schools can select their students, while public schools are open to all children in the community. Even with selective enrollment, charter schools don’t do any better, and sometimes are far worse than public schools.

It makes a lot more sense to focus public resources on every community’s public schools to lower class size, pay teachers enough to hire and retain experienced educators, and provide academic and extracurricular activities.

For Kentucky to compete with other states for good-paying jobs in fields like aerospace, automotive, health care, logistics, and advanced manufacturing, Kentucky has to offer a quality education. Job creators who need educated employees will not be impressed by experimental schools operated by for-profit businesses.


Written by John Schaaf, an attorney and co-author of “Hidden History of Kentucky Political Scandals” (The History Press). Cross-posted from the Northern Kentucky Tribune.

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