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Nicholas Brake: Don’t be deceived by the name, House Bill 149 creates opportunities for the wealthy


Don’t be deceived by the name.  House Bill 149, an act creating “opportunities in education” is bad legislation at the worst possible time. HB149 was drafted with the intent of providing tax credits to wealthy donors to give families the ability to use public dollars for private school tuition and for education-related expenses for all families. It is potentially devastating for public education in a state that is already financially sick.

Anyone that works in or supports public education should oppose the bill for the following reasons outlined below from the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents:

First, contrary to what many supporters will say, the bill does not target low-income families. Households making $96,940 per year for a family of four would be eligible – that number becomes $121,175 in income in the second year–which, as the chart illustrates, is over two times the median income for Kentuckians.
  
Second, the bill would mean lost general fund revenue, with a potential loss of $205 million in the next five years. This would be the only tax credit in Kentucky to balloon automatically over time. In year one, the annual lost revenue could be as much as $25 million. In year five, the annual lost revenue could be as much as $61 million. The Commonwealth, like most states, is financially struggling in the midst of the economic fallout from the pandemic.  Spending $25 million now is irresponsible and a potential violation of the education clause of the Kentucky constitution requiring the legislature to adequately fund common schools.  The opportunity costs for education are many, for approximately $100 million the legislature could pay for universal Pre-K for 4-year-olds or give college students struggling with rising tuition costs a much-needed break.  

Third, the bill does not create accountability for participating schools. Parents do not really have “choice” if they don’t have any data to compare between schools. Private schools do not participate in the state accountability system, do not have to comply with open meetings and open records, do not have to show data on disproportionality in disciplinary actions, expulsions, and do not have to serve English Language Learners. They can also cherry-pick from among the applicant pool to accept only the highest-performing students and turn away students that may be more difficult to serve. It is not equitable or fair.

Finally, the timing of this measure is irresponsible.  Kentucky is currently receiving an influx of CARES Act money from the Federal Government that will make the bottom line look healthier than it really is.  CARES money is not recurring revenue– it will go away, and the state will have to find ways to cover necessary expenses.  The fact that the General Assembly would enact this during a budget crisis in a state that direly needs revenue reform, while public schools and universities are being deprived of the funding just to maintain operating expenses is nothing short of outrageous due to the pandemic.  If enacted, the fiscal consequences will cripple the Commonwealth and further weaken public education over the long term.  

Don’t be fooled. This is a tax break for the wealthy while depriving the most disadvantaged students in Kentucky the resources needed for the public education that the Commonwealth must provide them by law.

Nicholas Brake, a former public school superintendent, is director of the Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership at Western Kentucky University and author of the Kentucky Education Policy Blog at kyedpolicy.blogspot.com


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One Comment

  1. Regarding the assertion that HB-149 does not target low-income students, the bill actually says:

    “A majority of funds available for first-time applicants shall be reserved for students whose household income does not exceed that necessary to establish eligibility for reduced-price meals based on size of household as determined annually by the United States Department of Agriculture applicable to the Commonwealth.”

    That certainly looks like targeting for low-income students. Also, remaining funds go into a lottery system if needed, so even more low-income students could benefit.

    The bill does a lot more, too much to fully describe here, but some of the bill’s provisions allow money to be used in public school systems for things like summer education programs, fees for dual credit courses, computer hardware and software and fees to attend another public school system (perhaps in another district) that could serve a specific child better.

    There will also be support for “supplemental materials or associated online instruction required by either a curriculum or an education service provider,” which many children might need once the full impact of COVID-19 is known.

    And, speaking about services parents might need due to COVID-19 impacts, there has been a lot written about impacts beyond academic learning with children during the pandemic. Thus, it is of great interest that the bill would fund “Educational services and therapies, including but not limited to occupational, behavioral, physical, speech-language, and audiology therapies provided by a licensed professional.” Also included would be transportation costs to get to those service providers.

    Poor parents in particular are going to need a lot of the provisions of HB-149 and the bill’s focus is clearly on helping them. A narrow viewpoint about this bill from a public education “insider” does not diminish the need.

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