LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) -- The nation's top school official teamed up in Kentucky with Gov. Matt Bevin on Wednesday to promote school choice.
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos held a roundtable discussion about school choice at the Bluegrass Community and Technical College in Lexington. DeVos is promoting what she calls Education Freedom Scholarships, a program which would provide $5 billion in federal tax credits for donations to approved organizations that provide private school scholarships.
She said it would provide $72 million a year for Kentucky students.
"Kentucky could put together one or more programs that are going to give students more choices to find the right fit for their education," DeVos said.
The proposal is similar to a scholarship tax credit bill that led to sickouts and protests by public school teachers at the State Capitol. House Bill 205 ultimately died in the House.
The invited guests at the roundtable were all supporters of school choice, including Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis and state Board of Education Chairman Hal Heiner.
"Every single person who sat around this table cares about the children — not about funding, not about territory, not about power, not about politics," Bevin told reporters.
Democratic legislators from Lexington issued a statement critical of Bevin for not including any of them in the roundtable.
"It isn't surprising, however, considering our governor consistently excludes key officials, stakeholders and constituent groups in talks about important areas of education like funding, teacher training and pension reform," the statement said. "In addition, any meeting with Secretary DeVos must include discussions about why she so strongly supports educational choice and how that threatens public education across the nation."
DeVos said more than $1 trillion has been spent over the past 50 years to try and close the student achievement gap, and it has only gotten wider.
"Our contention is it's time to do something different," DeVos said.
WDRB News asked DeVos about the concerns expressed in Kentucky that tax credit programs drain funding from public schools.
"In every state where students have more choices and more opportunities, the actual results in the traditional public schools get better right along with students who've gone to a school of their choice," DeVos said.
DeVos said the program is a priority for President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. But she acknowledged it faces a huge hurdle in the U.S. House, which is controlled by Democrats.
"We're continuing to talk to a lot of members whose constituents would benefit directly from an opportunity like this," DeVos said.
From Lexington, Bevin and DeVos traveled to Marshall County High School, where the secretary presented a grant to fund mental health programs in the wake of last year's school shooting.
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