LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed two education bills sent to him by the General Assembly, including legislation creating flexible spending accounts that would allow some families to pay for private school tuition.
Beshear announced his vetoes during a Wednesday news conference.
House Bill 563, sponsored by House Majority Whip Chad McCoy, would open a $25 million pool of tax credits to help jumpstart fundraising to groups that award newly created education opportunity accounts, which could have been spent on things like therapies, tutoring and other academic services.
Families who live in counties with 90,000 or more residents could have used education opportunity accounts to finance private school tuition. Jefferson County would have been included in that group.
"By diverting money from public education to private entities, the General Assembly has violated our very Constitution," Beshear said.
In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned state constitutional bans on public aid for private religious schools in Montana after its scholarship tax credit program was challenged.
McCoy, R-Bardstown, and House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, also noted that HB 563 did not pull funds from public education spending.
"It provides an option to the one-size-fits-all approach in an attempt to help each child realize his or her potential," the pair said in a joint statement.
"It is noteworthy that the voices missing from today’s veto announcement were those of parents and the children who are faltering and failing under current conditions. However, their voice is heard loud and clear in the lines of HB 563."
"In addition, by sending state money collected from taxpayers across the state to private schools only in certain communities, the General Assembly has abandoned its obligation under the Constitution 'to provide for an efficient system of common schools throughout the state,'" Beshear said.
While the governor said he believed HB 563 would be challenged in court, he stopped short of saying whether such legal action would come from his office if lawmakers overturn his veto.
"That could come from a school, a school district," Beshear said. "That could come from any Kentucky citizen, so we're not threatening that action. We're just trying to be really clear that this is unconstitutional."
Charles Leis, president of EdChoice Kentucky, criticized the governor's veto of HB 563, saying Beshear "chose to listen to special interests like the (Kentucky Education Association) 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," he said in a statement. "Voters across Kentucky agree that this should be the year that changes.
"We ask Kentucky legislators to put students first and override the veto; every student across Kentucky deserves nothing short of the opportunity to have an education that fits their needs."
HB 563 would have been available to families who earn up to 175% of the federal limit to qualify for reduced-price school meals, or about $86,000 for a family of four in the upcoming school year.
Most of the funds for first-time recipients would have been reserved for families whose household income does not exceed the limit to qualify for reduced-price school meals, or $49,025 for a family for four. Within that group, HB 563 stipulates that funding must be awarded in order of financial need.
Beshear was joined by Lt. Gov. Jaqueline Coleman, Education Commissioner Jason Glass, KEA President Eddie Campbell, Jefferson County Teachers Association President Brent McKim, Jeni Bolander with KY 120 United, Kentucky Association of School Superintendents Executive Director Jim Flynn and Kentucky Association of School Administrators Executive Director Rhonda Caldwell in opposition to HB 563.
"House Bill 563 is bad education policy because it has no accountability, no certification, no background checks and no licensing requirements for the education service providers," Campbell said. "Our students and our parents should know that the educator working with them is highly trained and certified."
HB 563 passed the Senate by six votes, 21-15, and the House by a single vote, 48-47, March 16.
Beshear also vetoed House Bill 258, which would move future teachers to new hybrid retirement accounts rather than defined-benefit pensions. HB 258 passed the Senate on a 25-11 vote and the House on a 63-34 vote March 16.
"This would harm the commonwealth's ability to attract the best and the brightest to teach our future," he said.
The General Assembly will need a constitutional majority, or half the legislative body plus one member, to override the governor’s vetoes.
Lawmakers return from the veto recess Monday to consider overriding Beshear's vetoes and passing additional legislation.
The Senate Republican leadership office did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on the governor's vetoes.
Beshear also highlighted Wednesday five education bills signed into law: Senate Bill 128, which grants students a supplemental school year in 2021-22 if they need to retake coursework; Senate Bill 101, which sets new funding and management requirements for vocational education and technology centers run by local school boards; House Bill 158, which gives local universities with aviation programs seats on their local airport boards; Senate Bill 135, which updates performance funding for state postsecondary schools; and Senate Bill 127, which encourages schools to keep at least two rescue inhalers on hand for students.
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