FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — School choice parents got what they wanted from Kentucky's General Assembly this year.
House Bill 563 - the school choice measure - narrowly passed through the legislature. The bill allows for education opportunity accounts. In simpler terms, it's a tax-credit scholarship fund that will be used to allow kids to go to schools other than their local public school.
And in several counties, like Fayette and ones with populations of more than 90,000 people, the money can be used to pay for private school tuition.
"It's just about fairness," said Andrew Vandiver with EdChoice Kentucky. "Trying to make sure that low to middle-income families have the same choice and opportunities that upper-income families have."
School choice parents say this allows them to choose the school best for their children.
"My children did great in public school but her experience in private school was so amazing," said Desirae Caudill, a school choice parent. "And to be able to have that choice for our kids just means so much."
"Home school isn't for every child. Private school isn't for every child. Public school isn't for every child," said Akia McNeary Sullivan, another school choice parent. "That's why we as parents need options so we can find the right school that fits our kids' needs."
So, school choice advocates are happy. But those in public education are feeling differently about this bill.
"So-called “education opportunity accounts” are just another term for private-school vouchers," said KEA President Eddie Campbell. "This is another example of legislators sneaking in an unpopular issue disguised as something else, just like the infamous ‘sewer’ bill in 2018."
"It almost feels like a kick in the gut," said Jeni Ward Bolander, a teacher and member of 120Strong.
"I have nothing against private schools. My mother went to a Catholic school. I have no problem with those whatsoever. I do have a big problem when you use public money and put that into private schools without the oversight, without seeing if they're using it effectively," said Bolander. "We have to adhere to a lot of standards because we are entrusted with the public's money to educate the public. And these schools don't have the same things. I'm not saying they're bad. I'm not saying they're awful. I do say I disagree with using public monies in private schools."
And the way this bill passed really upsets public education supporters. Normally, they've rallied and fought back in-person against bills like this, but because of COVID-19 protocols, they weren't allowed in the Capitol this year.
Public education supporters also feel deceived. The bill was presented as a measure to open borders for public schools, but it ended up being changed a lot.
"We will be back," said Bolander. "We're not done advocating. And we've done everything we've been able to do - short of passenger pigeons and flares up in the air - to get attention this year. But we're definitely going to be back. We're not done fighting for public education."