Kentucky teachers have staged mass call-outs resulting in school closings in recent weeks to protest against House Bill 205. This bill was sponsored by (R) John Carney, and involves scholarship tax credits. HB 205 would give Kentuckians an incentive to donate to private school scholarship programs in exchange for dollar to dollar tax breaks, up to $1 million. Carney and advocates of HB 205 say the bill would give at risk students access to education tailored to their needs. Educators, students, all 173 district superintendents, and citizens across KY oppose the bill, claiming it would drain money from the state’s revenues and ultimately hurt public schools. According to the Courier Journal local newspaper, Stephanie Winkler (president of Kentucky Education Association) called the program a “backdoor voucher” to funnel public dollars to private schools. Some of Kentucky’s public schools already have a major shortage of books, computers, and resources and KY educators have been standing their ground in Frankfort. Due to lack of support, the bill will go no further this legislative session.
The Legislative Research Committee estimated the program would cost $50 million by the 4th year of implementation. According to the state budget director’s analysis which was presented by Carney, the bill would save money in the long run based on the assumption that more families would opt to attend private or religious schools. This would result in fewer students the state is responsible to educate.
Pension Reform Bill
Governor Matt Bevin supports HB 205, which was preceded by a Pension Reform Bill he signed into law April 2018. This bill would have also negatively affected KY teachers & educators had it not been unanimously struck down by the state’s supreme court. The Pension Reform Bill would have placed future new teachers in a hybrid cash balance savings plan, like a 401k, rather than putting them in a traditional pension plan. Steve Beshear, former governor and attorney, immediately filed suit once the law was passed. The court ruled that the speedy process used by Republican majorities to turn Senate Bill 151 from a sewer bill into nearly a 300 page pension reform bill pushed through into law violated a provision of the state constitution that ensures lawmakers have a “fair opportunity” to consider a bill before voting on it. Governor Bevin’s unfavorable decision making is sure to have ramifications as we approach the elections.
Other bills recently introduced include Senate Bill 250 which applies specifically to Jefferson County Public Schools. SB 250 would give superintendents more authority over the district, including the power to select school principals. The district has over 98,000 students, and opposers argue that a superintendent cannot be present at all schools all the time in order to address specific needs of the schools. Principals are currently appointed by decision-making councils which include teachers and parent representatives.
Higher Education on a National Level
President Donald Trump unveiled his 2020 budget proposal a couple weeks ago, which would cut funding to the Education Department by $7 billion. Changes in the proposal include the end of subsidized student loans and the public service loan forgiveness program. The federal work study program would also face cuts. Now that the House is controlled by democrats, however, the administration may find it hard for this proposal to be realized.
Our Civic Duties
We the people, have an important role to play in politics. One way to be politically active is by voting politicians into office who have our best interests in mind. It’s so important to learn about the people we are electing into power in order to understand their core values and agenda. Lobbying, protesting, organizing rallies and events is another way to have our voices heard. Joining and/or donating to campaigns also strengthens support for the protection of our interests. There is power in the people we just have to stand up for ourselves! Here is what that looks like in Kentucky…