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Kentucky Catholic Conference praises school choice law

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by Christine Rousselle

Washington D.C., Mar 18, 2021 / 04:00 pm MT (CNA).- The Catholic Conference of Kentucky is pleased with the recent passage of a school choice bill in the commonwealth.

House Bill 563 would create a tax credit scholarship fund for certain Kentucky students, called an education opportunity account. That money could be used for students to attend schools outside of their education districts, including private schools.

“H.B. 563 is a very good piece of legislation,” Andrew Vandiver, associate director of the conference, told CNA on Wednesday. “It is both inclusive of students and covers a variety of services.”

However, Vandiver said that “one area of weakness” with the bill was that it included only the largest counties in Kentucky – those with a population over 90,000.

“We would have liked to have seen a statewide program,” he said. “But HB 563 will still help thousands of students across the state and that fact cannot be understated. This bill will changes lives.”

Vandiver added that the conference “will continue to advocate on behalf of students in other parts of the state that lack adequate educational options.”

H.B. 563 passed the Kentucky House by a vote of 21 to 15 on March 16, and then was narrowly passed in the Senate by a vote of 48 to 47. Vandiver called the vote a “historic event” for the commonwealth.

“This represents the first time that educational choice had been voted on by the General Assembly,” he said.

The bill now goes to Gov. Andy Beshear (D), who has indicated that he is considering vetoing it. If the bill were vetoed, it would need 51 votes from the Senate to override the veto.

The Kentucky Education Association opposes the bill, and the state’s education commissioner has also asked Beshear to veto the legislation.

The U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) has supported school choice measures as well. In 2020, the conference supported the School Choice Now Act which would fund scholarship-granting organizations and allow parents to use the scholarship funds for homeschooling or private schools.

State Blaine amendments have also been at the center of school choice cases. Blaine amendments were enacted by 37 states in the late 19th century to forbid public funding of religious organizations or causes. Montana’s amendment was at the center of a 2020 Supreme Court case; the high court struck down the measure as a violation of the First Amendment.

In that case of Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the state had blocked a scholarship program enacted by the legislature from being used to fund religious schools.

Kentucky has a Blaine Amendment, although according to the state’s Catholic conference the measure is not as strict as those of other states. It would probably allow for scholarship tax credits for private schools, the conference has said.

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