UPDATE: Beshear vetoes school choice, hybrid pension bills; GOP reacts

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UPDATE(03-24-21 10PM)

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – Akia McNeary is a mom of four and says she and many other parents are feeling frustration after Kentucky House Bill 563 was vetoed.

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“This is something that all kids need I live in a community where their elementary school is not distinguished and proficients and I will go to the grocery store and these kids can’t count out a dollar 35 in coins,” says McNeary. “We want options as parents,” she continues.

McNeary says the bill would’ve given parents more of a choice for her children’s education.

If signed open enrollment would have been set up for public schools so that families could choose the best one for them.

It would also set up tax credits allowing public school students to go to private school.

The lobbying group called EdChoice Kentucky that supports this bill says other states have had similar legislation it’s made a difference.

“And when you talk about in particular low income students students of color their outcomes have come up with having a choice in education”,” says Andrew Vandiver the VP of EdChoice Kentucky.

In the press conference, the governor, the state education commissioner and several school district leaders, including some teachers, didn’t see it that way.

“If it becomes law, this measure would greatly harm public education in Kentucky by taking money away from public schools and sending it to unaccountable private organizations with little oversight,” explains Governor Andy Beshear

“This bill is bad education policy bad fiscal policy and bad public policy,” continues Eddie Campbell, a teacher and member of the Kentucky Education Association.

After the bill was vetoed, House Speaker David Osborne and Majority Whip Chad McCoy released a statement saying in part that it had two major problems.

It was going to require public school districts to come up with a plan to accept non-district students.

Also, it would allow seek funds to follow a student to another school district.

In response, EdChoice Kentucky says that’s not true saying the legislation is privately funded and it doesn’t take anything out of the education budget.
The group says there’s still a chance for the bill.

The Kentucky general assembly will look at it on Monday, and could override the Governor’s veto.

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ/AP) – Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Wednesday he was vetoing a measure that would allow limited use of scholarship tax credits to support private school tuition, calling it an attack on public education.

Beshear also is vetoeing a bill creating a hybrid pension system for future teachers. The governor said the measure is one more reason the state is having a difficult time attracting young people into the teaching profession. The Legislature also cut a teacher pay increase, funding supplements for insurance for teachers and their families and some other provisions from the budget Beshear requested.

On the school choice bill, known technically as HB 563, many public education advocates denounced the proposal leading up to Beshear’s announcement, but the embattled bill could still become law when the Republican-led legislature reconvenes next week. Override votes are expected on a series of vetoes, and the education bill could be at the forefront.

The measure would create scholarship tax credits — referred to as education opportunity accounts — to pay for education expenses, including private school tuition in highly populated counties. The accounts would be backed by private donors eligible for tax credits.

Opponents warn the accounts would drain up to $25 million a year from the state treasury — money that could go for underfunded public education.

“If it becomes law, this measure would greatly harm public education in Kentucky by taking money away from public schools and sending it to unaccountable, private organizations with little oversight,” the governor said during a news conference.

Beshear, who campaigned as a vocal supporter for public education, was backed by a series of public education leaders who gave video messages supporting the veto.

During a press conference announcing the vetoes, as well as the signing of several education proposals approved by lawmakers, Beshear called HB 563 “unconstitutional” on multiple fronts, primarily because he says it violates the state Constitution and previous court rulings by taking taxpayer dollars from public schools and giving it to private schools.

The legislation passed 48-47 in the late hours of the Legislature. Some opponents of the measure have said the lack of transparency is one reason for their opposition. They’ve noted they understand some lawmakers’ concerns but would like the opportunity to talk those concerns — and possible solutions — out.

The slim margin begs the question of whether the Republican-controlled House can get the 51 votes needed to override the veto when they reconvene Monday for the final two days of the 2021 legislative session.

Although the initial version of HB 563 received some support from district superintendents because of its open enrollment provision, the legislation in its current form is widely opposed by those in public education.

Republican leadership reacted strongly to Beshear’s veto and comments.

House Speaker David Osborne and Majority Whip Chad McCoy released the following statement regarding the veto of HB 563, the Education Opportunity Act. Osborne and McCoy pointed specifically to the incorrect and baseless assertion that the measure diverts money from public education:

“HB 563 would create a historic shift in our state’s approach to education by providing parents an unprecedented opportunity to meet their child’s educational needs. While this proposal is new to our state, versions of it have been discussed and debated for several years and similar legislation is in place in neighboring states and across the nation. Rather than engage in a discussion of how we can improve educational opportunities for Kentucky’s children, the Governor and those who participated at today’s veto announcement instead continue to spread misinformation and engage in scare tactics.

“In reality, HB 563 contains two major provisions. First, it would require public school districts to develop a plan for accepting non-district students and allow SEEK funds to follow a student to other public school districts. HB 563 would also allow for the creation of Education Opportunity Accounts, similar to those used by many other states to remove financial barriers and provide eligible families with access to tools and resources to improve their child’s education. While these accounts could be used to pay tuition at all public schools as well as private schools in counties with 90,000 or more people, they could also be tapped to provide tutoring, therapy, transportation, testing, and a number of other tools. The bill eliminates no funding for public education nor does it add any unnecessary burdens. Instead, it provides an option to the one-size-fits-all approach in an attempt to help each child realize his or her potential.

“It is noteworthy that the voices missing from today’s veto announcement were those of parents and the children who are faltering and failing under current conditions. However, their voice is heard loud and clear in the lines of HB 563,” Osborne and McCoy said.

A student was among those who spoke in favor of the veto during the governor’s press conference.

Republican lawmakers changed aspects of the bill to make it more palatable, including initially removing private schools from the bill and adding funding for full-day kindergarten.

The final version that landed on Beshear’s desk, though, did not include kindergarten funding and allows for education opportunity accounts to be used on private school tuition in the state’s largest counties.

The veto override is more likely of HB 258, the hybrid pension measure.

It would put new teachers on aplan that combines aspects of defined contribution and defined benefit plans, rather than the defined benefit plan teachers have currently.

Many educators and administrators fear the plan will force teachers to work longer for a less retirement money. Under the bill, teachers would be eligible to retire at 57 — up from the current age of 50 but under the average retirement age of 59.

The governor did sign the “do-over” bill. SB 128 was approved by both the House and Senate by wide margins.It  would offer students from all grades the option to retake or supplement classes they took during the pandemic.

Students would also get a fifth year of athletic eligibility.

Local school boards must decide whether they’ll allow students to redo a year. Under the law, they must accept all redo requests or none at all.

Among other bills, Beshear said he has signed:

  • Senate Bill 101 involving vocational education and technology centers.
  • House Bill 158, which allows universities offering aviation degrees to add two seats to local air boards.
  • Senate Bill 127, which encourages schools to have at least two bronchodilator rescue inhalers on site.

In a statement, Beshear outlined his issues in more detail.

“Education is how we provide better lives for all Kentuckians. It is how we build up a highly skilled workforce so we can quit chasing the jobs of the past and attract the investments and companies that are creating the well-paying jobs of the future,” said Beshear. “Education is how we begin to address the deep historic inequities that have robbed too many Kentuckians of the opportunities they deserve.”

The Governor vetoed two bills he says harm public education.

“These measures represent a direct attack that would significantly weaken our public education system in Kentucky,” said  Beshear.

House Bill 258
The Governor does not support House Bill 258, because it would cut retirement benefits for new teachers, harming the commonwealth’s ability to attract and retain educators.

This measure comes at the same time the General Assembly has cut more than $70 million the Governor’s proposed budget would provide to help support health insurance benefits for educators’ families, the governor said. The General Assembly also cut raises for school employees that were included in the Governor’s budget.

“I have continued to support raises and more benefits for our teachers because of educators like Laura Hartke, who teach during the day and drive an Uber in the evening and on the weekends to make ends meet,” said Beshear. “The lack of support for our educators is leading to fewer and fewer college students choosing teaching. This is not OK. If the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency has taught us anything, it is the vital role our educators play in the lives of our children and in our economy.”

House Bill 563
The Governor does not support House Bill 563 (HB 563), which would greatly harm public education in Kentucky by taking money away from public schools and sending it to unaccountable private organizations with little oversight. HB 563 would also drain as much as $25 million from public education.

This measure would establish private educational institutions that would decide how to spend public money and could use up to 10% of these public funds on their own employee salaries, benefits and expenses.

“This measure is a handout to wealthy donors. They would receive tax benefits even larger than charitable donation deductions and could even profit by transferring securities to the private educational institutions to avoid capital gains taxes,” said Gov. Beshear. “HB 563 would lead to the same kinds of funding disparities that the Kentucky Supreme Court held was unconstitutional in Rose v. Council for Better Education in 1989.”

“As the highest elected teacher in Kentucky, it is my professional responsibility to support Kentucky’s public schools. As the mom of a 1-year-old, it is my personal duty,” said Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman. “My daughter just learned how to walk. By the time she walks into her kindergarten classroom for the first time, the damage of HB 563 would already be done. Hundreds of millions of public tax dollars that could have gone to strengthening our classrooms and supporting the people in them would have been diverted to private shadow organizations that are unaccountable to Kentuckians.”

“The legislature needs to slow down and approach this enormously consequential issue more thoughtfully and with greater transparency. Kentuckians deserve quality public policy when it comes to our kids and our schools, and HB 563 is not it,” said Dr. Jason Glass, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education.

“Some may ask why we are fighting so hard against this bill. It’s because we work every day with students and families from every facet of society and we believe fundamentally that public education is an inalienable right of those folks we represent,” said Dr. Jim Flynn, executive director of the Kentucky Association for School Superintendents. “Therefore, the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents opposes the privatization of public funds for education through tax credits for educational opportunity accounts.”

“This bill is bad education policy, bad fiscal policy and bad public policy,” said Eddie Campbell, middle and high school music teacher and president of the Kentucky Education Association. “Our students and our parents should know that the educator working with them is highly-trained and certified. This bill also gives away $25 million to wealthy and corporate donors and tax credits at the expense of all public services, including our public schools.”

Multiple community leaders shared video messages thanking the Governor for vetoing HB 563, including:

  • Dr. Jeni Bolander, a teacher and member of KY 120 United;
  • Dr. Rhonda Caldwell, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Administrators;
  • Brent McKim, high school science teacher and elected president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association; and
  • Arivumani Srivastava, high school junior at the Gatton Academy at Western Kentucky University from Bowling Green and member of the Kentucky Student Voice Team.

The Governor signed the following bills:

House Bill 158
House Bill 158 (HB 158) invests in Kentucky students by supporting the state’s only four-year aviation professional pilot degree program. It increases cooperation between the Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) and local air board, giving students more opportunities to learn.

“Kentucky is training a workforce that will not just be ready for the future, but will help lead our nation into the future,” said Gov. Beshear. “That’s why I’m proud this bill also helps us prepare for the state-of-the-art flight training center planned for construction at the Central Kentucky Regional Airport. HB 158 is great news for EKU and for the entire commonwealth.”

Senate Bill 101
Senate Bill 101 will make career and technical education more responsive to stakeholders, with the enhanced ability to work with local industry to produce the kind of workers their community needs.

“Many local school districts and their communities want the flexibility that comes with managing their own career and technical education centers — but they are deterred by the potential funding loss,” said Gov. Beshear. “This legislation ensures a reliable funding stream for those districts that choose to convert their state-operated center to local control.”

The Governor said he would line item veto a portion of the executive branch budget to make this bill a reality.

Senate Bill 127
Having a rescue inhaler on site for students suffering from an asthma attack can mean the difference between life and death. Senate Bill 127 encourages schools to keep at least two rescue inhalers on hand.

“This bill mirrors what was done for students with life-threatening allergies eight years ago and applies it to asthma, which also can be a life-threatening condition,” said Gov. Beshear. “This is a minimal expense that can save one of our kids. I encourage our school leaders to follow this new guidance and take action.”

Senate Bill 128
The Supplemental School Year Program outlined in Senate Bill 128 will allow students the chance to enjoy the same high school experience they expected a year ago.

“The past year has been uniquely challenging, and while educators have done their best in these trying circumstances, the pandemic has deprived some students of priceless opportunities and memories,” said Gov. Beshear. “School districts who choose this Supplemental School Year option for their students also will have access to federal funds to remedy learning loss in creative ways and to help all students get back on track academically.”

Senate Bill 135
The Governor supports Senate Bill 135 (SB 135), which provides common-sense updates to ensure that state funding for higher education is distributed to campuses on a more sustainable basis.

It also supports efforts by colleges and universities to enroll and graduate more Kentuckians with a certificate or degree by 2030.

“My administration will always put education first, and I’m proud to support this bill that will help more of our students pursue their dreams and build a better Kentucky for us all,” said Gov. Beshear.

Dr. Aaron Thompson, president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, shared a video message in support of SB 135.

“Education is the key – the common denominator – to building the better Kentucky we want for all of our people. Supporting our educators and a strong public education system is how we serve all the commonwealth’s children equitably,” said Gov. Beshear.

ORIGINAL STORY POSTED MONDAY, MARCH 22, 2021

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Repeating positions from two weeks ago, the Kentucky Education Association and the local KEA elected leaders in all nine of Kentucky’s largest counties initially affected by passage of House Bill 563 are calling on Governor Andy Beshear to veto the bill and stop a $25 million diversion of taxpayer funds away from the state coffers and into the pockets of private schools.

State Education Commissioner Jason Glass also called for a veto.

“We call for the veto of HB563 because it is bad education policy, bad fiscal policy, and bad public policy,” said KEA President Eddie Campbell. “Kentucky’s public schools are filled with highly qualified and dedicated educators who work diligently to ensure that every student in the Commonwealth is successful. Our public schools have endured continuous cuts and underfunding. Our legislators should be focused on fully funding public schools so every student from Pikeville to Paducah from the Ohio River to the Cumberland River have a safe, nurturing and high-quality public education.”

Each local KEA president called out legislators for hiding this legislation until a last-minute procedural maneuver, which added the tax break language and then quickly passed in the Senate. The bill narrowly passed the Kentucky House with a one-vote margin, 48-47, with five representatives abstaining. Here is what KEA leaders across the state have to say about HB 563:

“Considering Kentucky’s public schools have been underfunded in every budget since 2008, funding HB563 is literally stealing money from the public-school children of our Commonwealth. The $25 million in tax credits could be used to fund textbooks, professional development and all the things that have been cut over the past years. We must ensure a quality public education for our students. That starts with a veto of this bad bill by Governor Beshear.” Leann Lewis, President, Kenton County Education Association

“In Daviess County, we see that this will be taking money from an already underfunded public school budget and placing it into private education—all without the accountability that public schools have. Educators in Daviess are asking the governor to please veto this misplaced, mistimed and misled legislation.” Danielle Ellis, President, Daviess County Education Association

“As an educator, we spend hundreds of dollars each year to make our class environment suitable and welcoming for our students. Years have gone by without suitable textbooks or technology needs, especially the latter given an ongoing global pandemic. Taking that line-item budget down to $0 only hurts the students and eventually will fall into the local districts hands to fund. How will that be possible when budgets are already tight? Our legislators can, and need to, do better! The Boone County Education Association stands behind a veto of HB563.” Mary M. Wilson, President, Boone County Education Association

“As teachers we spend our own money every day on our classrooms because the legislature has failed to provide us with the funds that we need. And now they are failing us again by funneling tax dollars to private entities with no oversight, at a time when our student needs are even greater. Governor Beshear has shown he stands up for public education and stands with public educators. We are asking him to please veto HB563.” Jessica Hiler, President, Fayette County Education Association

“The Jefferson County Teachers Association is asking Governor Beshear to veto House Bill 563 because the bill is seriously flawed and would put children at significant risk. House Bill 563 explicitly prohibits the state from being able to regulate the Education Service Providers that would be created by the bill.  This means the state could not even require criminal background checks for Education Service Provider employees who would be working directly with students.” Brent McKim, President, Jefferson County Teachers Association

“We desperately need Governor Beshear to veto HB563. Campbell County has multiple school choice options available to families. But only ONE choice provides an appropriate education for every child. The public-school system is the only school system that welcomes ALL children. Private schools can reject students with special behavioral or educational resources, and public tax money should only go to schools that accept ALL students. At a time when we are operating under-budget as we are, we definitely cannot afford to lose funding. Governor Beshear, Veto HB563 and do not give away our much-needed funding to schools that can turn students away.” Lisa Day Poor, President, Campbell County Education Association

“Gov. Beshear, please veto this bad legislation and what it will do to our county. The financial implications and unintended consequences of HB563 will stretch well beyond funding for our excellent public schools in Warren County. The economic development of our community depends on companies moving to our area; one of the first questions these CEOs ask when considering Warren County is, ‘How good are your public schools?’” Kim Coomer, President, Warren County Education Association

“Madison County is firmly against HB563 as this bill does nothing to support public education or the students most in need in this county. Educators in Madison County are calling on Governor Beshear to veto this bad legislation. After the year our students have had, it shows the true nature of our legislative body that they would directly attack the funding available to better serve our students by creating what is essentially nothing more than a tax credit that detracts from our funding and allows taxpayer dollars to be spent with a reckless abandonment of oversight of services and safety. Provide this funding to our local public schools so that all of the kids in Madison County have the services and programs they need to thrive. MCEA would like to thank Sen. Carpenter, Rep. Frazier, and Rep. Bray on standing with our students and voting no on HB563.” Susan Cintra, President, Madison County Education Association

“HB563 blatantly shows a lack of respect for the integrity and foundation of our public schools and our students. To pass such a bill during a pandemic when our public-school students need more resources than ever shows the lack of value our legislators place on our students. To rob the streamlined, minimal resources we have and give those away in tax credits and vouchers is beyond anything I can imagine as a public-school teacher educating during a pandemic. Governor Beshear, continue supporting public education by vetoing this bill.” Regina E. Boone, President, Hardin County Education Association 

In his Monday message to the education community, Glass issued a message advocating for the veto.

Dear Colleagues:

House Bill 563 is currently sitting on the governor’s desk and I have asked Gov. Andy Beshear to issue a veto on that bill.

HB 563 is an omnibus “school choice” bill. It allows state SEEK funding to follow a student to a nonresident district; and creates a scholarship tax credit scheme that can be used for many educational options – including private school tuition.

While we can have a thoughtful conversation about the merits of public school choice and whether or not we want to use state tax credits to fund private educational enterprises for Kentucky’s students, the late and rushed manner in which this bill was moved forward is highly problematic.

HB 563 was first reported out of committee on the 25th legislative day this session, which has just 30 days. There was no time given to have hearings or bring together all of the stakeholders – including superintendents, teachers, parents, community members and the K-groups – to look at possible issues and come up with solutions that work best for our students.

Besides the rushed timeline, there are many policy-related reasons why I asked for the governor to veto this bill. For a piece of legislation that would so markedly change how education operates in the Commonwealth, there are precious few specifics as to how these systems would work and there have been too few opportunities for input from key groups – including our state’s superintendents. There are no proper safeguards in place to ensure a smooth transition and the bill does not have a comprehensive vision for how funding would follow the student.

HB 563 also is vague on how nonresident pupils must be treated. In fact, it says that “the policy shall allow nonresident children to be eligible to enroll in any public school located within the district.” So, a district could be forced to allow nonresident students access to any school within the district or to its magnet schools and programs, when there aren’t enough seats for the community’s own students who want them. This seems to give nonresident students more rights than resident students and flies in the face of common sense.

As this bill has been poorly vetted and crammed through at the end of the legislative session, there are numerous other examples of poor education policy HB 563 will bring. From my reading, there is nothing to prevent districts from encouraging parents to enroll their disruptive students in another district, to the home district’s benefit. Likewise, students with Individual Education Programs that are costly to implement or students with low test scores could be encouraged to change districts. And what happens when districts receive students who later do not perform well academically or if they are truant concerns – would districts be permitted to not accept them for enrollment the next year to return to the resident district?

On the tax credit side of this bill, we again have unvetted “model” language dropped in from national educational choice think-tanks that is ill fitted for Kentucky’s context. The system it will create is ripe for fraud, abuse and profiteering from donors, “account granting organizations,” and “education service providers” and provides no safeguards for quality or accountability for results. This tax credit scheme creates a shell game with public funds that will move resources available to rural communities into private schools in more populated areas and has too many opportunities for recipients of these funds to discriminate against students who don’t fit the right profile the private school is looking for.

I want my students, your students and all of Kentucky’s students to succeed in school and life. Our best way of doing that is to work on building up the public education system Kentucky has, where 93% of the state’s students are enrolled.

We should not reflexively oppose efforts to expand school choice or to think creatively about how funding could work differently. But this legislation will have enormously consequential impacts on the education of 650,000 of Kentucky’s youth. Therefore, it needs – and deserves – more time.

Thank you for all your hard work and I urge you to let your legislator know your position on this deeply flawed legislation.

Thank you for all your hard work.

Kind regards,

Jason E. Glass, Ed.D.

Commissioner & Chief Learner