Kentucky governor vetoes charter school bill
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear rejected another Republican education priority Thursday, vetoing a bill aimed at launching charter schools in Kentucky and supplying them with funding.
The governor warned that the bill would divert money from traditional public schools into charter schools, which he said would lack the appropriate levels of oversight and accountability.
His veto sets up another policy showdown with the GOP-dominated legislature. On Wednesday, Beshear vetoed a sweeping education bill that would shift more power to school superintendents and designate a set of historical documents and speeches to incorporate into classroom work.
Lawmakers will have a chance to override those vetoes and others when they reconvene next week for the final two days of this year’s legislative session. The charter schools bill has splintered GOP ranks, with 22 House Republicans aligning with Democrats to oppose the proposal last month.
Beshear used his weekly news conference Thursday to fulfill his pledge to veto the charter schools measure, which had cleared both chambers with razor-thin veto-proof majorities.
“I’m against charter schools,” the governor said. “They are wrong for our commonwealth. They take taxpayer dollars away from the already-underfunded public schools in the commonwealth. And our taxpayer dollars should not be redirected to for-profit entities that run charter schools.”
After years of inaction, charter schools would gain a foothold in the Bluegrass State if the bill becomes law. The legislature authorized charters in 2017, but none have been created in Kentucky because lawmakers didn’t provide a permanent funding mechanism.
The measure Beshear vetoed would set up a long-term funding method for charter schools. Public charters, like traditional public schools, would receive a mix of local and state tax support.
The bill also would require that at least two charter schools be created under pilot projects — one in Louisville and one in northern Kentucky.
The bill’s backers said charters would give parents more choices for their children’s schooling.
“This is another option for our public schools to give parents a choice, to send their kids somewhere that the parent thinks is a better option for their child,” GOP Rep. Chad McCoy said during a debate.
The goal is that the pilot projects “show the rest of the state there’s nothing to be afraid of,” he said.
The measure has drawn strong pushback from many in public education. The governor predicted that the bill would likely draw a court challenge if lawmakers override his veto. The bill’s funding provisions would likely be one target of a lawsuit, said Beshear, a former state attorney general.
Instead of introducing charters, lawmakers should put more money into traditional public schools, he said.
“The answer to concerns about the performance in our public schools lies with actually funding and working with our public schools,” the governor said.
Lawmakers passed a budget recently that increases per-pupil funding under SEEK, the state’s main funding formula for K-12 schools. The amount would rise to $4,100 in the first fiscal year and $4,200 in the second year. Beshear proposed higher amounts each year. The current amount is $4,000.
The governor also recommended funding universal pre-K for every 4-year-old in Kentucky — a proposal that never gained traction in the legislature. Those issues could spill over into next year’s elections, when Beshear seeks a second term in GOP-trending Kentucky.
On Wednesday, Beshear vetoed a bill that would shift key school governance decisions to superintendents and away from school-based decision-making councils. Superintendents would get more authority to choose curriculum, and the selection of school principals would ultimately be put in their hands.
Another bill drawing Beshear’s veto would ban transgender girls and women from participating in school sports matching their gender identity from sixth grade through college.
Other vetoed bills would weaken the governor’s authority to make appointments to the Executive Branch Ethics Commission and would designate the attorney general as the only statewide constitutional officer allowed to use taxpayer funds on litigation challenging the constitutionality of a bill. That measure is a response to lawsuits filed by Beshear that challenged GOP-backed bills.