In a special meeting Wednesday, the Warren County Board of Education took up only one business item: whether to participate and support Kentucky’s Council for Better Education in any challenge – including legal – of the school-choice law House Bill 563.
Ultimately, the board granted preliminary approval to let Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Clayton join or initiate any legal challenge against the measure – though no such lawsuit has been filed.
“In the event that the Council for Better Education does file litigation, tonight’s action by the board has provided permission for me to support that effort,” said Clayton, who also serves as vice president on the council’s executive board. “Right now, there’s been no lawsuit filed. … That’s all we know at this point.”
The vote was 4-0.
Board member Amy Duvall was absent because of a scheduling conflict.
House Bill 563 allows private donors to receive tax credits for contributions to funds that can be used for public and private school tuition. In March, school-choice advocates cheered the bill’s passage by lawmakers, who successfully surmounted a veto from Gov. Andy Beshear to enact the legislation.
EdChoice KY President Charles Leis called it a “historic win for Kentucky students” and one that would give Kentucky students “all the opportunity they need to succeed in the classroom.”
Many public education advocates, though not all, opposed the bill.
Bowling Green Independent School District Superintendent Gary Fields, for example, was a vocal supporter of another part of the legislation that makes it easier for non-resident students to attend schools outside the district where they live.
During the meeting, and just before the board held its final vote, Clayton clarified that any legal challenge would only apply to the tax credit provision of the law, not the non-resident provision.
Founded in 1984, the Council for Better Education brought the lawsuit that led to the Rose v. Council for Better Education Kentucky Supreme Court ruling that found Kentucky had failed to provide “equal educational opportunity” to all children regardless of where they live. It cleared the way for a wave of education reforms to equalize school funding across the state, and public education advocates still look to it as a bulwark to this day.
Critics of House Bill 563 charge that the tax credit provision will bleed millions of dollars out of the state’s treasury each year and divert state funding from public schools. Its opponents, including the governor, have anticipated the law will draw legal challenges, though Beshear has not personally threatened litigation.
“The issue here is it’s unconstitutional to take taxpayer dollars out of a public school setting to be used for private purposes,” Clayton said.
It was not immediately clear how many other Kentucky school boards have granted their superintendents similar authority. Clayton said he was not aware of how many other local school boards were joining his board in taking similar action.
Eric Kennedy, director of advocacy for the Kentucky School Boards Association, said he would not be surprised if House Bill 563 eventually drew a legal challenge, given the opposition to the bill from educators.
Kennedy was unaware of any other Kentucky school boards that had taken similar action, he told the Daily News on Thursday.
The Council for Better Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment submitted Thursday through a contact form on its website.
– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @NewsByAaron or visit bgdailynews.com.