Education

Kentucky Governor Caves to Special Interests, Vetoes School Choice Bill

Gov. Andy Beshear blocked a bill that would have allowed families to cross district lines in pursuit of better schools.

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Kentucky's public education establishment loudly complained about legislation that would have forced school districts to compete for students—and on Wednesday, Gov. Andy Beshear did their bidding.

Beshear, a Democrat, vetoed a school choice bill that would have allowed families to cross district lines in pursuit of better schools, with education dollars following students who decided to switch from one school to another. The bill would have also created a $25 million scholarship fund—to be filled by donations from private businesses, for which they would receive state tax credits—that students in Kentucky's three largest counties could have tapped to help pay for private school tuition, while students elsewhere could have used the money to hire tutors or pay other educational expenses.

The bill would "greatly harm education in Kentucky," Beshear said in a video statement announcing the veto, by "taking money away from public schools." In other words, students in failing public schools should be forced to remain there so those institutions can continue to collect tax dollars—because that's what is important, right?

It is important to one group of people: the public school superintendents who demanded on Tuesday that Beshear veto the bill. "We believe in choice, and we're willing to have that conversation," said Marty Pollio, superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools, which includes the city of Louisville. "It needs to be done right, and we need to fully fund public education before we set aside $25 million for private school scholarship tax credits."

This is the game that the public school establishment plays when it comes to school choice. Sure, they "believe" in choice, but the "conversation" always has to wait for another day. And what, exactly, does "fully fund public education" even mean? Kentucky taxpayers already spend more than $14,000 per pupil. What's the proper price tag?

Beshear, however, seems to have fully swallowed the education establishment's vapid talking points. In his veto statement, the governor bemoaned how the school choice bill would send money to "unaccountable private organizations"—which is really quite unfair to the unaccountable public organizations that could be getting the funds instead.

Calling private schools unaccountable is ridiculous on its face. In order to stay in business, they have to attract students. Unlike public schools, they don't get to take more money from taxpayers if they fail. Beshear knows this, of course, because he sent his own kids to private school—a decision that stirred a brief controversy during his successful 2018 run for governor.

But it wasn't an irresponsible decision that caused Beshear's hard-earned money to fall into the hands of unaccountable private organizations. It was a decision he made, as a parent, to give his kids the best chance to succeed in life.

Poorer families in Kentucky apparently don't deserve the right to make that same choice.

"For too long, families in Kentucky who aren't wealthy have been left with no choice when it comes to education," Charles Leis, president of EdChoice Kentucky, which supported the school choice bill, said in a statement. "Beshear is wrong to veto House Bill 563. By doing so, he chose to listen to special interests like the [Kentucky Education Association, a teachers union] over the voice of Kentucky parents who are begging for help."

There's still a chance the bill could pass. In Kentucky, the state legislature can override a governor's veto if a majority of all lawmakers vote to do so. The school choice bill, House Bill 563, cleared the Republican-controlled state Senate earlier this month with broad support but passed the Republican-controlled state House by a slim 48-47 margin. Because there are 100 seats in the lower chamber, 51 votes would be necessary to override Beshear's veto.

Beshear has a long way to go to catch up with his New York and California counterparts in the ongoing contest to be America's worst governor—but Wednesday's veto shows he's not ready to concede the race just yet.