In what is shaping up as the next hot-button issue for Kentucky educators, school superintendents on Monday held news conferences across the state to oppose legislation in the General Assembly that would establish a scholarship tax credit program.
Superintendents described the measure as a back-door effort for private school vouchers that would steer millions from already underfunded public schools.
Under House Bill 205, scholarship tax credits would allow businesses and individuals to receive a tax credit for their donation to a scholarship-granting organization. The organizations would then provide scholarships to private schools low- and middle-income students across Kentucky.
Both the Kentucky Education Association and the Kentucky 120 United educator groups have asked their members to lobby against the bill. Teachers in Fayette, Jefferson and other counties who held a sickout forcing the cancellation of classes Feb. 28 have said it’s one of their main concerns.
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The bill is on the agenda for the House Appropriations and Revenue committee on Tuesday for discussion purposes only — not a vote.
Woodford County Superintendent Scott Hawkins said superintendents would discourage another teacher sickout in opposition of House Bill 205.
“It’s important for us to be in school right now to continue to do what’s right for students every day,” he said.
Superintendents who gathered in Lexington Monday at the Kentucky Educational Development Corporation said in a statement they were not arguing against parent choice or against people who donated money for scholarships. They said they were arguing against giving more state fund dollars away when public schools and districts are already underfunded.
Hawkins said school district fixed costs remain the same even if the district loses students to a scholarship tax credit program.
“We need every dollar that we can get. House Bill 205 takes dollars away,” said Hawkins.
The superintendents noted that inadequate state funding includes zero money for textbooks, instructional materials, and teacher training this year and next and inadequate money for transportation, kindergarten and preschool.
HB205 could hurt this year’s “signature school safety legislation as needed funding next year for implementation could be diminished” due to the negative impact of falling enrollment and lost revenues for private school scholarship tax credits, the superintendents said in a statement.
The superintendents noted that private schools aren’t subject to public accountability and transparency, such as open records.
House Majority Leader John “Bam” Carney, R-Campbellsville, said in January that this session marks the third time that he has tried to get the legislation approved. Carney has said it’s not a public school versus private school issue, but what is best for Kentucky children.
Andrew Vandiver of Walton, a board member of the advocacy group EdChoice Kentucky, previously said the bill is expected to generate $25 million to help about 7,000 families.
But KEA President Stephanie Winkler said in a Facebook Live session on Saturday that her group thought the bill was unconstitutional and that tax monies should not be used for private or parochial schools.
Fayette Superintendent Manny Caulk was at the news conference in Lexington on Monday but did not make a statement.