Kentucky's school superintendents unveil legislative priorities

Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Clayton speaks Tuesday during a news conference with regional superintendents at the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative in Bowling Green. The group joined other superintendents across the state in unveiling its legislative priorities. 

After denouncing House Bill 563 – the new school-choice law that would usher in a form of scholarship tax credits for private school tuition – some Kentucky educators are fighting back against what they see as an effort to take funding from their schools.

On Friday, the Council for Better Education announced in an email to Kentucky’s school superintendents that it hired the law firm Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs to challenge the law’s scholarship tax credit provision, claiming the law violates the state’s constitution. The council said it expected to file a lawsuit Monday.

“Based on advice from legal counsel, we believe there are multiple sections in KY’s Constitution that render HB 563 unconstitutional – with respect to scholarship tax credits for private schools,” the council’s email said.

Under House Bill 563 – enacted in March by lawmakers who overrode a veto from Gov. Andy Beshear – private donors can receive tax credits for contributions to funds that can be used for public and private school tuition.

The law’s critics 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. In contrast, school-choice advocates cheered the law as a historic victory and said it would help expand students’ opportunities.

EdChoice KY issued a statement Monday in response to the pending lawsuit: “Education should be about what’s best for Kentucky kids, not what’s best for a handful of bureaucrats who seek to enforce the status quo with this shameful lawsuit.”

Action taken by the Warren County Board of Education last week – which voted to authorize WCPS Superintendent Rob Clayton to join or initiate any legal challenge against House Bill 563 – was a crucial first step, according to the email.

“On Wednesday, June 2, Frankfort (Board of Education) and Warren County (Board of Education) had voted to work with CBE up to and including filing litigation,” the email said. “The individual district actions were necessary for appropriate legal standing and venue for such litigation to be filed by CBE.”

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 failed to provide “equal educational opportunity” to all children regardless of where they live.

The Kentucky Supreme Court decision cleared the way for a wave of education reforms to equalize school funding across the state.

Today, the council represents 168 of Kentucky’s 173 public school districts.

The email said the council approved an assessment of “$0.50 per (average daily attendance) based on 2018-19 (average daily attendance) per district in order to cover the legal fees and related costs of litigation.”

The council does not charge annual membership dues, it said.

The council’s legal challenge will only focus on the portion of House Bill 563 that establishes scholarship tax credits. Another critical provision makes it much easier for students to attend schools outside the district where they live.

The lawsuit’s only named defendants are the Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet and the Kentucky Department of Revenue, the email said.

With House Bill 563 set to go into effect before the end of the month, the Council for Better Education said it’s aiming to seek a court order “to halt the private school tax credits from being implemented,” the email said.

The council’s opposition to House Bill 563 likely won’t end with its lawsuit. The email said “CBE plans to use our Educational Coops to communicate after July 4th, the next steps regarding local board discussions and the CBE assessment process. CBE has sufficient funds on hand to deal with any immediate legal expenses.”

The email further said “we envision local board’s adopting a brief resolution that will be provided to you along with talking points to inform your local BOE in July 2021. We do encourage you to notify your BOE of CBE’s action and more detailed conversations to occur in July 2021.”

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @NewsByAaron or visit bgdailynews.com.

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @NewsByAaron or visit bgdailynews.com.

Education reporter. Covers education and related issues, focusing primarily on the Bowling Green and Warren County public school districts and Western Kentucky University.