Fifteen Republican lawmakers have proposed a constitutional amendment that would pave the way for educational freedom in Kentucky.
HB 208 proposes the state constitution be amended to allow the “provision for the educational costs of students outside of the system of common schools for parents of limited financial means.”
“This is an overall statement that nothing in the constitution should be understood to prevent educational freedom and choice in our state,” Jim Waters, president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute, told The Lion.
“It’s not to determine at this point what school choice policies will actually be considered,” Waters continued. “It’s rather to remove all the obstacles to any of those policies that we want to pursue in the future.”
The amendment also stipulates that education choice funding would not be “taken directly from the common school fund.”
“Common” schools are generally understood to be public schools, although Kentucky is one of the few states that still lacks public charter schools.
“The big argument against this will be that school choice harms public education,” Waters explained, “but we are seeing around the country that states that have more choice also have seen more improvement in their public education system’s performance.”
He cited Florida, which has several large choice programs and better public education scores than Kentucky, despite spending less money per-pupil.
If HB 208 passes the Legislature – Republicans have strong majorities in both chambers – it would bypass the governor’s office and go directly to the people for a vote.
“It will be an intense and challenging campaign,” Waters said. “We’ll see a lot of national teachers’ union groups and bureaucratic groups that will pour money into the effort to stop this.”
Democrat Gov. Andy Beshear has staunchly opposed education freedom policies, despite sending his own children to private schools.
However, many Kentuckians are already on board with school choice policies.
A 2019 survey found that the majority of Kentucky residents, regardless of political affiliation, support school choice.
Overall support was 74%, with 62% of Democrats also in favor. Just 20% were opposed.
School choice enjoys similar support nationwide and has even increased in popularity over the past few years.
And having this amendment on the same ballot as the 2024 presidential election could boost its chances of passing, since presidential elections typically have much larger voter turnouts.
Even without governmental support, more Kentucky families are sending their children to nonpublic schools.
Nonpublic education has grown 26% in the last five years in the state, with homeschool rates more than doubling, reported EdChoice Kentucky. More than 8% of that growth came during the 2021-22 school year, well after the COVID-19 pandemic.