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Private school funding bill moves in late Ky. legislative scramble

School choice pendant in school building.
Liz Schlemmer
Supporters say the measure supports "school choice," a phrase advocates use to describe state support for private and charter schools.

In a late-session scramble, some GOP lawmakers are pushing through a controversial measure that would allow the state to pay for private school tuition.

Some Republican lawmakerswant to change the Kentucky constitution so they can more easily fund private schools. With days left before the veto period, a state House committee approved House Bill 174, which would allow lawmakers to fund private schools, without asking voters first.

Republican Rep. Josh Calloway, of Irvington, is sponsoring the measure. He said the state’s fundamental document needs to be amended in light of last year’s Kentucky Supreme Court decision striking down a private school scholarship program.

“That was the ruling that they came back to us and basically, ‘If you want to have a school choice program, you have to change your constitution,’” Calloway said.

Advocates, like parent Akia McNeary, who was a party in the Kentucky Supreme Court case, said current law prevents lawmakers from helping middle-income families like hers afford private school tuition.

“I'm asking just so that myself and parents like myself can have a choice to put them in the best education possible for the kids,” McNeary said, adding that she has one child in public school, but two attending private schools.

“Public school just don't work for them,” she said.

Opponents worry the measure will open the doors to programs that fund private education at the expense of public schools.

“I'm just very concerned about if we pass something like this, what is this going to do overall to our public education system,” Louisville Democratic Rep. Keturah Herron said, adding that she does understand the desire for families to have more schooling options.

Mary Ruble, with the Kentucky Education Association, noted that lawmakers can already fund private schools — they just have to go to the voters first.

“If you have confidence in them, if you believe that they support your cause — give them the chance to say that,” she said.

The Kentucky Constitution currently allows lawmakers to fund nonpublic schools only after voters approve the spending during a referendum.

“No sum shall be raised or collected for education other than in common schools until the question of taxation is submitted to the legal voters, and the majority of the votes cast at said election shall be in favor of such taxation,” the constitution states.

The proposal working its way through the legislature would add language to the constitution, stating that “The General Assembly may provide for the educational costs of students outside of the system of common schools” and that no referendum would be required to approve nonpublic school funding “so long as no funds are used from the common school fund.”

Ruble, with the KEA, said voters should have the right to weigh in on programs that direct state dollars away from public schools.

Because Calloway’s measure would change the state constitution, the amendment itself would require voter approval in a statewide referendum in 2024.

The House Committee on Elections, Constitutional Amendments, and Intergovernmental Affairs advanced the measure on an 8-5 vote on Tuesday, with a few Republicans joining Democrats in opposition.

Rep. Kevin Bratcher, a Republican from Louisville, voted in favor of the bill, noting that Kentucky is one of few states in the country without charter schools or state support for private schools.

“I mean, is our schools that great — public schools — that you'd want to make a stand that you can't make one change towards privatization?” he said.

This story has been updated.

Support for this story was provided in part by theJewish Heritage Fund.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at