Kentucky General Assembly Passes Amendment to Allocate Public Funds to Nonpublic Schools

The Kentucky Senate on Friday followed the House’s lead in passing legislation for a constitutional amendment that could allow public funding for nonpublic schools, deemed a “game changer” by one supporting Republican.

With a 27-8 vote, Senators approved House Bill 2. While most Eastern Kentucky Republican Senators supported the bill, Democratic Senators Robin Webb, Brandon Storm, and Phillip Wheeler, alongside two other Republicans, opposed it.

Since this bill seeks to amend the state constitution, voters will have the final say on the matter come November. Governor Andy Beshear, despite his stance against using public funds for nonpublic schools, will not have the authority to veto constitutional amendments.

Sen. Stephen West, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, believes that this bill could pave the way for offering Kentuckians “school choice” and aims to “modernize” the state’s education system. Speaker David Osborne reminded members to focus on the bill at hand during the House debate.

West heralded the constitutional amendment as a significant shift for Kentucky’s educational landscape, emphasizing its potential impact for future generations. He stressed, “This will dictate where we are 25 years from now.”

House Republican Caucus Chair Suzanne Miles, the bill’s primary sponsor, emphasized that the legislation’s purpose is to let voters decide whether public funding should extend beyond the current public school system, a concept constrained by the 1891 Constitution.

Republican leaders in the Senate, including President Pro Tem David Givens and Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, supported the bill by arguing that public funds already flow to private entities, like road contractors.

Thayer encouraged Democrats to observe the trend towards “school choice” in blue states’ cities like New York and California, contrasting it with resistance from the minority party and education establishment in Kentucky.

Senate Democrats, similar to their House counterparts, expressed concerns over the bill’s expedited passage through the General Assembly this week, suggesting it lacked proper deliberation despite its importance. The Senate Education Committee advanced the bill in a special Thursday meeting.

Sen. Cassie Chambers Armstrong criticized the proposed amendment for potentially sidestepping crucial sections of the 1891 Constitution, raising concerns about the integrity of Kentucky’s legal framework.

Judging by past legal precedents, Kentucky’s Constitution strictly prohibits the use of tax dollars to support anything other than “common schools,” resulting in legal challenges to attempts at directing funds to private or charter schools.

Some judicial decisions, including a December 2022 ruling from Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd and a subsequent unanimous Kentucky Supreme Court ruling, emphasized the constitutional limitations on public funding for private schools.

Democratic Floor Leader Sen. Gerald Neal emphasized that Kentucky’s public schools are already underfunded and should be the primary focus, particularly as the General Assembly works on the upcoming state budget.