Kentucky Fight Over School Choice Nearing Conclusion as Republicans Look to Override Governor's Veto

Posted: Mar 29, 2021 12:20 PM
Kentucky Fight Over School Choice Nearing Conclusion as Republicans Look to Override Governor's Veto

Source: AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

This week in Kentucky, the latest heated debate over school choice is coming to a conclusion, as the Republican-controlled legislature is attempting to override the governor’s veto of HB 563.

The divisive issue pits the state’s Democratic Governor, Andy Beshear, and the interests of public school officials' against the state’s Republican-controlled legislature and parent groups, with opponents emphasizing the decrease in funding to public schools and supporters stressing the expansion of educational choice for more parents.

The bill, passed in both chambers of the statehouse earlier this month, would allow students and their allotted funding to cross district lines, giving parents the ability to send their children to better preforming public schools. The bill would likewise create a privately-funded $25 million scholarship fund to provide aid to students for private school tuition, private tutors and other education expenses.

On Wednesday, Gov. Beshear officially vetoed HB 563, “AN ACT related to school choice,” along with several other bills passed by the Republican legislature.

The governor said in a livestream the same day that the bill “would greatly harm public education in Kentucky by taking money away from public schools and sending it to unaccountable private organizations with little oversight.”

Going forward, Kentucky HB 563 is not dead yet. The state legislature, with a majority from the Senate and 51 votes in the House, can override the governor and bring the bill into law despite his decision. However, it faces a difficult battle in the House, as the bill originally passed with the slimmest of margins, 48 to 47.

In a press conference the day before the governor’s veto, a group of superintendents representing various Kentucky school districts condemned HB 563 as a cut in funding for public schools. 

Marty Pollio, one such superintendent, had this to offer, “We believe in choice, and we're willing to have that conversation,” going on to say, but “It needs to be done right, and we need to fully fund public education before we set aside $25 million for private school scholarship tax credits. Clearly, I urge the governor — Gov. Beshear — as I believe he will, to veto House Bill 563.”

In reaction the governor’s actions, Charles Leis, the president of EDChoice Kentucky, said in a statement, "Beshear is wrong to veto House Bill 563. By doing so, he chose to listen to special interests like the [Kentucky Education Association, a teachers union] over the voice of Kentucky parents who are begging for help."

While those supporting public schools got their wish, at least for the time being, it is notable that the man who delivered to them their win, Gov. Beshear, himself sends his children to private school. An irony not lost on many onlookers.

Ultimately, the fight over Kentucky HB 563 marks only one of the many ongoing battles between establishment public school supporters and new guard school choice proponents.

The state legislature has until Tuesday at midnight to override the Governors veto.