WATERS: School choice left undone

Published 9:14 am Friday, April 17, 2020

It’s not only what the legislature does but doesn’t do which greatly impacts multitudes of Kentuckians and their families.

During the just-completed session of the General Assembly, Frankfort’s all-wise political class once again passed over a tax-credit scholarship policy which would give Kentucky’s low-income families the choice of providing their children a private or parochial education.

This scenario is now going on five years as the GOP — particularly the House’s version — has not only failed to use their legislative supermajority to give parents meaningful choices but in some cases has actually blocked or intentionally slowed progress toward more educational liberty — despite the fact that most states long ago passed up Kentucky in their menu of school options for families.

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Even before COVID-19 struck and uprooted this year’s General Assembly session, a group of House Republicans banded together to block a scholarship tax-credit policy from moving forward.

“We can’t afford more tax credits,” they declared.

Yet many of them didn’t have any problem jumping on board at the end of this year’s budget session to pass several tax credits, including tax-credit expansions for the alcohol, agricultural and coal industries.

While a case may be made for these breaks, no excuse is acceptable for the seeming political disregard — even hostility — toward Kentucky’s poorer residents.

For instance, the politicians slapped a 10 percent tax on vaping products showing they care little for younger, poorer Kentuckians who have finally found a way to break free from the hideously unhealthy burning-tobacco habit.

The plan is to use the increase in vaping taxes to pay for those other tax credits.

Very Corleone-like of them, wouldn’t you say?

More than ever, the majority party needs to relish the idea of helping bring school choice and real change to our public education system as much as it seemed energized by the prospects of overriding Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s vetoes of voter-ID and budget legislation.

Beshear rode into office openly hostile toward educational liberty, and certainly toward allowing poor parents to send their children to any school but a public one — even if that wasn’t the best option for those students.

This makes it even more incumbent on legislators to push back by providing meaningful school-choice options, including public charter schools, scholarship tax credits and more educational opportunities for learning-disabled students.

Beshear is so hostile to school-choice and indebted to his like-minded constituencies that the first action he took after assuming office was to sign an executive order firing the current members of the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) — all of whom supported real improvement of our public education system and alternatives for parents.

But the new appointees whom Beshear placed on the board right after taking office, but before the legislative session, may have run into another snag in remaining on the board.

State law requires that members appointed to the KBE in between legislative sessions be confirmed by both the House and Senate once the legislature returns.

Plus, KRS 11.160 clearly states that governors must submit the names of their nominees to the clerk of the House to begin the confirmation process.

While the state Senate during the final day of the General Assembly session voted on resolutions confirming most of Beshear’s KBE appointees, the House wasn’t involved at all.

Beshear didn’t submit the names of his nominees to the House, there was no House confirmation of these appointees and the process certainly didn’t begin in the lower chamber, even though the law explicitly requires all three maneuvers.

Actually, what Kentucky can’t afford are governors turning the state education board into a political weapon while being enabled by the willingness of too many legislators to cave so they don’t have to fight bawdy anti-reform groups who are adept at defending the status quo of an education system, leaving students behind and shutting parents out of the process.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read previous columns at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com and @bipps on Twitter.