Beshear vetoes Kentucky school choice, teacher pension bills

School choice advocates rally at the Kentucky Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. They are supporting legislation that would give tax credits to people who donate to scholarship funds for special-needs children or those in low-income homes to attend private schools.

(The Center Square) – Supporters of a bill that would give Kentucky families more choices for their children’s education lashed out at Gov. Andy Beshear on Wednesday afternoon after he vetoed a school choice bill. 

House Bill 563 would create “education opportunity accounts” for families, with that money being raised by private organizations. Qualifying families would then be able to use the money for a slew of educational reasons, including purchasing uniforms and supplies, securing tutoring and paying for tuition in non-district public schools. 

The bill also allowed families to use those funds for private schools in counties with a population greater than 90,000. 

The Democratic governor told reporters Wednesday the bill was unconstitutional because it would take money out of public schools and give it to private organizations. 

“House Bill 563 would lead to the same kinds of funding disparities that the Kentucky Supreme Court held was unconstitutional in the Rose Case in 1989,” said Beshear, citing the landmark case that led to educational reforms three decades ago. 

In a statement, House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, and Majority Whip Chad McCoy, R-Bardstown, called Beshear’s assertion incorrect and would actually put Kentucky in line with how other states handle public education. 

McCoy was the primary sponsor of the bill. 

“Rather than engage in a discussion of how we can improve educational opportunities for Kentucky’s children, the governor and those who participated at today’s veto announcement instead continue to spread misinformation and engage in scare tactics,” the House leaders said. 

While many of Beshear’s vetoes face a certain override in a General Assembly dominated in both chambers by Republicans, HB 563 faces an unknown future when lawmakers return to conclude the 2021 session next week. 

It took a 48-47 vote last week in the House to get the bill to Beshear, and the deciding vote was cast by state Rep. Al Gentry, D-Louisville. Gentry at the time said he had concerns about it but noted that the bill was popular among his constituents. 

House Republicans will need 51 yes votes to override. The 38-member Senate will need a majority vote, too. 

“AFP KY calls on the General Assembly to put children and families ahead of politics,” said Michael Conway, director for Americans for Prosperity-Kentucky. “We ask that they override Governor Beshear’s veto of HB 563 and give our students true educational freedom.” 

The governor said that should his veto be overridden that the measure will likely face a legal challenge. 

Some school choice proponents also took to Twitter after Beshear’s veto to point out that the governor has sent his children to private schools. The issue came up during the 2019 gubernatorial campaign when then-Gov. Matt Bevin criticized Beshear for sending his kids to private schools but campaigning on a public education platform. 

Beshear chose Jacqueline Coleman, a public school teacher, to be his lieutenant governor and relied on strong support from teachers’ unions to help him narrowly defeat Bevin. 

Beshear also vetoed another education-related bill Wednesday. House Bill 258 establishes a hybrid pension plan for teachers hired starting next year. It also would raise the retirement age for new teachers. 

The governor criticized lawmakers for not giving educators raises and for removing $70 million from his budget proposal he said would have strengthened benefits for teachers. 

“At a time when we should be investing in the teaching profession to attract the very best teachers, salaries remain stagnant while their importance to their communities only increase,” Beshear said. 

Republicans likely will have enough votes to override that veto.