Jackson County Public School Superintendent Mike Smith has serious concerns regarding controversial legislation (House Bill 205) that would impact funding for Jackson County public schools and school districts across the state. Smith does not stand alone in his concerns. Early this week school superintendents from across Kentucky spoke out against this controversial bill that they say would cause irreparable damage to the state's public education system. The show of unity comes as the Kentucky General Assembly heads into the final stretch of its 30-day session — and as teachers across the Bluegrass State consider whether to wage another massive protest. District leaders from each corner of the state joined forces at five separate press conferences on Monday afternoon. From each region, the message was the same: Do not pass House Bill 205, which would offer Kentuckians tax breaks in exchange for donations to private school scholarship programs.
Under House Bill 205, scholarship tax credits would allow businesses and individuals to receive a tax credit for their donation to a scholarship-granting organization. The organizations would then provide scholarships to private schools low- and middle-income students across Kentucky. Both the Kentucky Education Association and the Kentucky 120 United educator groups have asked their members to lobby against the bill. Teachers in Fayette, Jefferson and other counties who held a sickout forcing the cancellation of classes Feb. 28 have said it’s one of their main concerns.
Superintendents are concerned that the tax breaks — which could reach up to $50 million by the fourth year of the program — would leave less money in the state's budget to support already underfunded public schools.
Superintendent Smith said, “I oppose HB 205; I feel that it would reduce the amount of revenue coming into the state general fund and with that a reduction in resources for our public school districts. We are currently only partially funded for kindergarten and funded at approximately 59% for transportation. Also, textbook and professional development monies were removed from last year’s biennial budget for public schools.”
Other superintendents also pointed to several major cuts to public schools in the state's current budget, including the elimination of all funding for textbooks and for professional development for teachers.
They also questioned how the state, while potentially forfeiting millions of dollars in revenue, planned to pay for ambitious school safety initiatives laid out in a bill already on its way to Gov. Matt Bevin's desk.
A note describing the bill's financial impact said the legislation could cost the state up to $7 million this fiscal year, and up to $21 million in its first full year of implementation.
Statewide teachers groups, including the Kentucky Education Association and KY 120 United, are also opposed to the bill. KEA President Stephanie Winkler has called the tax credit program a form of "backdoor" voucher intended to funnel public dollars to private schools.
The bill had its first reading last Friday, clearing the way for it to be heard by the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee. The bill is being heard by the House appropriations and revenue committee on Tuesday morning. The bill is listed as an "informational" item, however, meaning that lawmakers are not expected to take a vote on the measure. There is only one week remaining in the General Assembly's 2019 session.