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Lawmakers override vetoes on education bills, including school choice bill

Published: Mar. 29, 2021 at 5:39 PM EDT
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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WYMT) - Kentucky’s Republican-led legislature has put the state on a path toward allowing a form of scholarship tax credits to start supporting private school tuition.

The House and Senate overrode Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto on Monday.

The bill would create education opportunity accounts. The governor has predicted an override would trigger a court challenge. Private donors backing the accounts would be eligible for tax credits.

The grants could be used for educational expenses and for public school tuition. On a limited basis, the money could go for private school tuition in several of the state’s most populated counties.

“Every child is unique. They have unique learning needs. Parents know that. It’s not one size fits all,” said Andrew Vandiver with Ed Choice Kentucky.

Seen by their signature yellow scarfs, Ed Choice supports House Bill 563, which barely passed the House then vetoed by the governor.

But opponents argue it takes money meant for public schools and other needs.

“That doesn’t come out of education funds. That comes out from the general fund. $25 million less and that’s the first year,” said Ivonne Rovira with Save Our Schools Kentucky.

“We once again see public education with its neck inside a guillotine getting ready to have its head cut off. let’s make no mistake about it, what House Bill 563 does, is it takes $25 million away from public education and gives it to private schools,” said Sen. Reginald Thomas.

Senator Ralph Alvarado, who supports the bill, argues this gives students from lower-income families an opportunity to attend a school their parents could not afford and this levels the playing field.

“So let’s make that clear, this isn’t just for private schools. I would think I’ve heard so much from private schools asking for more funding, they can bypass the budgetary process completely, set up 401c3 accounts, raise money for pre-k, for textbooks, for any equipment they need in their public school systems right there at home. I don’t see why there is opposition to that factor because both public and private are eligible for that money,” said Alvarado.

Two weeks ago, this bill just barely passed with a very narrow 48-47 vote, and earlier Monday evening it passed 51-42. One lawmaker, Rep. Regina Huff, switched up her vote to pass this bill and reach the 51 votes needed. The Republican lawmaker is a middle school special education teacher. We’ve reached out to her for an interview or statement but have not yet heard back.

The state House and Senate moved quickly to override nearly 30 bills Governor Andy Beshear vetoed earlier on Monday.

The House also overrode the veto of House Bill 258, which sets up a new retirement system for teachers hired after January of next year. It changes how long teachers have to work before they can draw retirement.

“It was considered a mistake when it went from 30 years to 27 years. All we have done is replace that. The 2 extra years does not mean a teacher has to work 2 extra years, it simply means they can’t get full retirement benefits until they reach age 57,” said Rep. Ed Massey, R- Hebron.

Another development on the education front -- a group of teachers formed a new public employee union called Kentucky 120 United AFT. It was organized from a movement started three years ago when the teacher groups were upset when a new retirement plan was tacked onto a sewage bill in the closing days of that year’s legislature.

The House also changed some of their rules Monday to limit debate on vetoed bills to 10 minutes. It came after numerous Democrats rose to speak against some of the vetoes being overridden.

The Senate also voted to override vetoes the governor made on the executive budgets. This includes how the state will spend its share of the American Rescue Plan. The governor line-item vetoed a portion that said he had to get approval from lawmakers on how to spend the money.

There are several more new laws after lawmakers’ actions Monday. Senate Bill 228 changes how Kentucky fills U.S. Senate vacancies, taking power from the governor. House Bill 312 now makes it more difficult to get records from the General Assembly, and the Legislative Research Commission.

House Bill 231 and 275 shift power to the state treasurer. House Bill 475 prevents the state’s Safety and Health Standards Board to adopt any regulations stricter than federal ones.

House Bill 272 allows water districts to charge customers 10% late fees.

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