FRANKFORT, Ky. — It wasn’t the most surprising move, but Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed a couple education measures pushed by Republicans, saying they’ll ultimately hurt Kentucky's public education system.
“Teachers deserve better, and the commonwealth owes them an obligation to lift them up and not tear them down,” Beshear said.
What You Need To Know
- Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed two education bills Wednesday: House Bill 563 and House Bill 258
- HB 563 deals with school choice while HB 258 changes pension benefits for new teacher hires
- HB 563 faces an uncertain future when lawmakers return to consider veto override votes
- Gov. Beshear signed Senate Bill 128, giving students an extra year to participate in school activities because of the pandemic
Beshear vetoed House Bill 563, the school choice bill. It creates a $25 million dollar tax credit for people who donate to education opportunity accounts, which are run by private groups to help parents pay for school expenses.
In counties with more than 90,000 people, House Bill 563 allows money from EOA grants to go towards private school tuition.
“This is an extreme bill passed when there’s very little access to the Capitol that would have longstanding ramifications that I believe would be the beginning of the end to public education,” Beshear said.
The counties that qualify under the private school tuition provision are Jefferson, Fayette, Kenton, Boone, Warren, Hardin, Daviess, and Campbell counties.
The bill also requires school districts to develop a plan to admit out-of-district students, and it amends the school funding formula so funding follows the student instead of staying in the district where that student lives.
Beshear said he’s open to talks on that part of House Bill 563, but it should be its own separate bill.
House Speaker David Osborne (R-Prospect) and the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Chad McCoy (R-Bardstown), released a joint statement in response to the veto.
“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,” the statement said.
Supporters of the bill say they’ve been swamped with requests from parents who want the additional help.
“Some children thrive in public schools; some do not,” Desirae Caudill of Madison County said. “And for those children that do not, we just need another choice for them.”
Caudill says the EOA grants should be open to more private schools, especially after COVID-19 forced many public schools to move to virtual learning.
“I work 40-to-50 hours a week and virtual learning just was not an option for our home,” Caudill said. “So keeping my children in-person learning was a necessity.”
Akia McNeary Sullivan of Boone County says one of her children has attention deficit disorder, and public school isn’t working out.
“The classroom size of 27 just doesn’t work for him,” McNeary Sullivan said. “And then I have my youngest daughter, Monaè, she will be entering kindergarten this year and our local public school is not distinguished or proficient in reading and math.”
Beshear says House Bill 563 is not the way to address those concerns.
The bill faces an uncertain future when lawmakers return to Frankfort March 29 to consider veto overrides: it passed in the House by a 48-47 margin but needs 51 votes to clear an override vote.
House Bill 563 wasn’t the only bill Beshear vetoed Wednesday. He also rejected House Bill 258, which changes pension benefits for new teachers.
Opponents argue it requires teachers to pay more into the system and ultimately get less back.
“We’re telling new teachers right now, hey, you don’t get social security, which provides certain guarantees for your retirement, and we are not going to give you the same pension that was meant to provide you those guarantees,” Beshear said. “And we’re not going to pay you more.”
The bill moves any teacher hired after Jan. 1, 2021 to a hybrid pension system similar to a 401(k), something Republicans say is necessary to keep the pension system afloat.
It also includes a defined benefit pension benefit, similar to the system in place now for teachers, but the benefit is smaller.
Beshear did sign several other bills, including Senate Bill 128, which gives students an extra year to finish extracurriculars, sports, or anything else they might’ve missed out on due to the pandemic.
“While educators have done their best during these trying circumstances, the pandemic has deprived some students of priceless opportunities and memories,” Beshear said.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Max Wise (R-Campbellsville), thanked the governor on Twitter.
Beshear hasn’t acted on the budget lawmakers sent him last week, but he criticized the Republican majority for not including more education funding like he asked for. He also indicated he plans to use his line-item veto power on several portions of the budget.