FRANKFORT, Ky. — A decision on a lawsuit challenging a new, hotly-debated education bill passed earlier this year is expected by early October.
What You Need To Know
- House Bill 563 creates Education Opportunity Accounts
- The accounts help parents pay for school expenses, including private school tuition
- The accounts are funded by donors who are eligible for up to $25 million in tax credits in each of the next five years
- A group sued the state over the law, saying it’s unconstitutional to divert taxpayer dollars to private schools, even in an indirect way
The lawsuit involves House Bill 563, which is a piece of legislation that creates what’s known as Education Opportunity Accounts to help parents pay for school expenses, including private school tuition.
Akia McNeary, who is part of a group that advocates for the law, said her youngest son has attention deficit disorder
He started preschool at the private Zion Christian Academy in Florence, but McNeary said she couldn’t afford to keep him there and put him in public school.
“Nehemiah was degressing really bad from the foundation that was laid at Zion Christian Academy, so I made a financial hardship choice to place him back into Zion Christian Academy,” she said. “Now he’s in sixth grade and he’s doing really well.”
McNeary is part of an advocacy group promoting HB 563. She said parents like her need the help.
“School isn’t a one-sized-fits-all for every child, and I think that they need to start looking at more options for parents to give the children the opportunities that they need to succeed,” she said.
Donors to these Education Opportunity Accounts are eligible for tax credits worth up to a total of $25 million per year, which opponents of the bill say effectively means taxpayer money is going to private schools.
“Public dollars for public schools; private dollars for private schools,” Rep. Lisa Willner, D-Louisville, said. “That’s the way it’s supposed to work.”
Willner said she voted against the bill in late March because the money would be better suited to go toward funding public education.
“We’re basically making the situation worse by redirecting funds into these opportunity accounts; into schools that have no public accountability,” Willner said.
A group sued to try and stop the new law, and a hearing on that lawsuit was held in Franklin Circuit Court on Thursday.
National Education Association attorney Eric Harrington said it’s not constitutional.
“The commonwealth is obligated to furnish every student in the state in the public schools, and it is constitutionally proscribed from providing aid to furnish a private education. The case can end right there,” he said during the hearing.
Institute for Justice is defending the law, and attorney Joshua House said there’s nothing wrong with it.
“This is not a private school aid program. This is simply an educational sort-of financial assistance for all Kentuckians, whether they’re going to public school or private school,” he said. “And it’s simply need based. It has nothing to do with whether their school is private or not.”
Bethany Atkins Rice, a staff attorney for the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts, said the Kentucky Department of Revenue will not start processing applications for Education Opportunity Account money until Oct. 11, so Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd said he plans to have a ruling on the lawsuit by then.