FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed two controversial education bills on Wednesday after calling them a "direct attack on public education."
Beshear said House Bill 563 and House Bill 258 would "significantly weaken our public education system" by diverting money away from public schools and public-school teachers.
"I am a proud product of public education. A proud graduate of Kentucky's public schools," said Gov. Beshear. "My commitment to public education runs deep."
House Bill 563 is better known as the school choice bill. The bill would allow education opportunity accounts. In simpler terms, it's a tax-credit scholarship fund that would allow kids to go to schools other than their local public school. The funds could also be used to pay for private school.
"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 believe the bill would allow 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."
But public-school supporters don't see the bill the same way.
"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."
"I have nothing against private schools," said Jeni Bolander with 120Strong. "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. 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."
On Wednesday, the governor sided with public education advocates and vetoed the bill.
"If [HB 563] becomes law, this measure would greatly harm public education in Kentucky by taking money away from public schools and sending it to unaccountable private organizations with little oversight," said Beshear.
EdChoice Kentucky immediately called the veto a bad move.
"Gov. Beshear is wrong to veto house bill 563," said EdChoice KY President Charles Leis. "By doing so, he chose to listen to special interests like the kea over the voice of Kentucky parents who are begging for help. For too long, families in Kentucky who aren’t wealthy have been left with no choice when it comes to education. Voters across Kentucky agree that this should be the year that changes."
But Beshear's answer to those parents is that this program isn't the solution they're looking for.
"This bill is not the answer," said Beshear. "Their children would then be subject to an unregulated private entity that could take part of the money that is out there and pay themselves. We have seen what these do in other states and we believe it's to provide a sub-par education that can be harmful in many ways to those children."
Beshear also vetoed HB 258. The bill would move teachers hired on or after Jan. 1, 2022 into a new hybrid retirement plan.
"It would cut retirement benefits for new teachers," said Beshear. "This would harm the commonwealth's ability to attract the best and the brightest to teach our future."
One education bill Beshear signed into law on Wednesday is Senate Bill 128 - the "re-do" bill. The law allows local school districts to offer K-12 students the option to retake or supplement classes they took during the pandemic. On top of that, students would also get a fifth year of athletic eligibility.
"The pandemic has deprived some students of priceless opportunities and memories," said Beshear. "This supplemental school year program will allow those students the chance to enjoy the same school year experience they expected a year ago."
Now that the bill has the governor's signature, local school boards are responsible for deciding whether they'll allow students to re-do a year. Under the law, they must accept all re-do requests or none of them.
As far as the governor's vetoes go, the General Assembly could override them next week. However, Beshear suggested the issue could end up in court.