© 2024 WEKU
Lexington's Radio News Leader
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Help WEKU meet its annual fundraising goal. We now have $23,200 to raise by June 30. Click here to make your donation. Thank you!!

In surprise meeting, Kentucky lawmakers push controversial ‘school choice’ bill

A woman sits at a large desk and microphone in a government committee room. The chairs behind her are mostly empty.
Jess Clark
/
LPM
Owensboro Republican Rep. Suzanne Miles presented one of the most controversial measures of the session in a mostly empty committee room on Tuesday, March 12, 2024. The last-minute notice of the meeting did not give opponents or supporters time to make it to Frankfort to testify.

Republican state House leaders called a last-minute meeting Tuesday to consider one of the most divisive measures of the session.

A controversial bill that would allow public dollars to flow to private schools passed a Kentucky House committee on Tuesday with little time for the public to weigh in.

Despite deep public contention over the measure, the meeting took place in a mostly empty committee room. That’s because Republican leaders called a surprise meeting of the House Committee on Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs to hear the bill late Tuesday afternoon.

House Bill 2 passed the committee 11-4. It would allow lawmakers to fund private schools and other educational initiatives outside of the public K-12 school system. Advocates of such policies often refer to them as “school choice” initiatives.

HB 2 would require changes to sections of the Kentucky Consitution that have foiled the GOP-led legislature’s efforts to fund a private school scholarship program and a charter school funding design.

Owensboro Republican Rep. Suzanne Miles, who is sponsoring the legislation, said it was “notable” that sections of the state constitution had not been changed since 1891, and that the General Assembly may need to “possibly consider other options on our parental choices in education.”

The legislature is “ready to explore” the funding of nonpublic schools, Louisville Republican Rep. Kevin Bratcher said.

“But we have a judicial branch that’s shutting it down,” he said.

If HB 2 passes both chambers, the measure would need final approval by voters in a statewide referendum — a point noted by supporter, Nicholasville Republican Rep. Matt Lockett.

“This is saying to the voter, ‘We want you to decide: Do you want your tax dollars going to private schools?’ That’s all this does,” he said during the committee meeting.

All three Democrats on the committee spoke against the measure. Rep. Adrielle Camuel, of Lexington, said the proposed ballot language was “propagandistic” and “obfuscated” the intent of the measure.

Louisville Democratic Rep. Keturah Herron said she found the proposal “very concerning” and worried it would allow tax dollars to go to private schools who could discriminate against students.

“Folks who oppose the bill strongly, like I do, know that this is the latest attempt to divert funding from the vast majority of kids who will always be in our public school system, to wealthier kids who are already attending private school,” Louisville Democratic Rep. Josie Raymond said.

The measure also faces opposition from the Kentucky Education Association, which represents the state’s teachers.

“It will be detrimental to Kentucky’s public schools, opening the door for public tax dollars to stream to unaccountable private institutions with no oversight,” KEA president Eddie Campbell told the committee.

Pop up meeting

The meeting came with less than three hours’ notice to the public, who rely on committee hearings as the main opportunity to publicly testify in support or against measures. Democratic lawmakers said constituents opposed to the measure couldn’t make it to Frankfort in time to testify against it.

Asked why the committee could not consider the measure at its regularly scheduled Thursday meeting, Miles said it had to do with the number of attorneys who had to review the language.

“This was whenever I got the notice to show up in front of you, and here I am,” Miles said.

Raymond, the Louisville Democrat, made a motion to wait until Thursday to vote on the bill, “so that the people we represent have a chance to review it and come and visit us.”

The GOP-led committee voted Raymond’s motion down.

Raymond’s attempt to delay the vote followed efforts by other Democrats on the House floor.

Democratic Rep. Lindsey Burke, of Lexington, argued that the last-minute meeting did not abide by state open meetings laws, which require 24 hours notice for special meetings, except for in emergency situations.

“This meeting is not held with proper notice,” she said on the House floor. “As we contemplate governmental transparency, is this what we’re looking for?” Burke asked.

Hartford Rep. Scott Lewis, a public school educator, was the only Republican to join Democrats in voting against its passage.

The bill could be heard on the House floor as early as Wednesday.

State government and politics reporting is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.
WEKU depends on support from those who view and listen to our content. There's no paywall here. Please support WEKU with your donation.
Related Content