Kentucky governor vetoes pension theft and voucher bills. Will the legislature vote to override pension bill?

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear.

Olivia Krauth
Louisville Courier Journal

Calling them a “direct attack” on Kentucky’s public schools, Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed a set of controversial education bills Wednesday. 

Chief among the vetoed bills is House Bill 563, which would allow state funding to follow students who attend a public school outside of their home district and create a form of scholarship tax credits that would siphon millions from Kentucky’s general fund.

“Can we expect more from public education? Absolutely,” Beshear said Wednesday. “But the way to do that is not to defund it.”

The measure is “unconstitutional” on multiple fronts, Beshear said, and he expects it to face a legal challenge should his veto be overriden. 

The legislation landed on his desk after passing through the House on the slimmest of margins — 48-47 — raising questions if the Republican-led House will get the 51 votes needed to override Beshear’s veto when they reconvene Monday for the final two days of the 2021 legislative session.

Beshear, a Democrat who made public education a cornerstone of his administration, also rejected legislation placing new teachers on “hybrid” pension plans.

In an education-focused press conference, Beshear signed a bill allowing Kentucky students a “do-over” year after the pandemic disrupted classes and milestones for thousands of kids. 

Veto override of school choice bill questionable

A provision to create tax credits to rally donations that would go to private school tuition in Kentucky’s largest areas was the main sticking point in HB 563.

Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, a former educator, said the piece of legislation is “unconstitutional” and “unethical.”

A piece of the bill requiring districts to create open enrollment policies with each other was less controversial, with Beshear acknowledging the struggles some leaders of small, independent school districts face and offering to help find a solution outside of this bill.

“Governor Beshear is wrong to veto House Bill 563,” EdChoice KY President Charles Leis said in a statement. “By doing so, he chose to listen to special interests like the KEA (Kentucky Education Association) over the voice of Kentucky parents who are begging for help.”

Leis, whose group backs school choice measures, asked lawmakers to “put students first” and override Beshear’s veto next week. 

Beshear expects the legislation to be challenged in court if his veto is overriden, but clarified that he is not threatening legal action himself.

He believes the bill could be challenged on the grounds of sending public money to private schools, he said Wednesday.

It also could be challenged due to Kentucky’s larger public school funding system, which has increasingly placed the funding burden on local school districts. 

Kentucky’s Constitution requires the legislature to run an “efficient system of common schools throughout the state,” which several in public education contend lawmakers are not doing due to underfunding.

“We are very close in many analyses, especially when you look at disparities, of the same thing they were talking about in the Rose case,” he said. 

The 1989 Rose decision forced Kentucky to overhaul its public education system, including ushering in a new funding system meant to provide equity across districts.

Although the initial version of HB 563 received some support from superintendents because of the open enrollment provision, the legislation in its current form is widely opposed by those in public education. And their opposition is largely rooted in funding concerns. 

Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass had asked Beshear to veto what Glass called a “half-baked” bill. Several Louisville-area superintendents urged the governor to reject the bill, saying Kentucky needs to fund public schools first.

Educator groups, including the Kentucky Education Association and KY 120 United, have opposed scholarship tax credit legislation for years.

Pulling up to $25 million from state coffers to fund tax credits for donations to privately fund education expenses or, in some counties, private school tuition would lead to cuts in other areas, they argue, including public schools.

Republican lawmakers changed aspects of the bill to make it more palatable, including initially removing private schools from the bill and adding funding for full-day kindergarten.

The final version that landed on Beshear’s desk, though, did not include kindergarten funding and allows for education opportunity accounts to be used on private school tuition in the state’s largest counties.

‘Hybrid’ pensions for teachers vetoed

Beshear also vetoed legislation that previously sparked “sickouts” and the creation of large teacher activism groups in Kentucky. 

House Bill 258 would place new teachers on a “hybrid” pension plan that combines aspects of defined contribution and defined benefit plans, rather than the defined benefit plan teachers have currently.

Beshear said previously the “hybrid” plan could push away prospective teachers when states face a shortage of educators. 

Several teachers agree with Beshear, saying the new pension plan would require teachers to work longer for a less desirable retirement option. Under the bill, teachers would be eligible to retire at 57 — up from the current age of 50 but under the average retirement age of 59. 

Attempts at teachers’ pension reform in previous session sparked large protests, including district-closing “sickouts.” The Capitol has been closed to the public since last spring, severely limiting teachers in their abilities to protest the pension bill this year. 

Lawmakers will likely be able to override Beshear’s veto of HB 258.

2 thoughts on “Kentucky governor vetoes pension theft and voucher bills. Will the legislature vote to override pension bill?

  1. OUR OWN UNION (!) Jefferson County Teacher Association, crafted the two-tier, pension theft bill that the Governor just vetoed! WE contrarians in the union, known as “rogues” by our president Brent McKimbecile (24 years, 8 terms) opposed this pension theft, but he would not listen. We were not consulted, and we strongly urged the Governor to VETO the pension theft, and voucher bills.

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