On Differentiation, Direct Instruction, and More: A Decade Later
The Conservative Reclamation of Education

Here comes Kentucky's school choice constitutional amendment

Parents know best

Update, 3/13/2024: The Kentucky General Assembly approved HB 2 in modified form. It will now go to the voters as a ballot initiative in the November election. Many thanks to the hardworking lawmakers who made this possible.

Update, 1/27/2024: A second bill proposing a school choice constitutional amendment has been filed. House Bill 2, sponsored by Republican Majority Caucus Chair Suzanne Miles (R-Owensboro), accomplishes the same thing as the previously-proposed HB 208, with somewhat different language. Key members of House leadership, including Speaker David Osborne, are co-sponsors, indicating a strong chance that this bill will advance. Please continue to encourage lawmakers to work together, reconcile the language of the two bills, and unite to bring a strong constitutional amendment to voters this fall so that every family, regardless of income or zip code, might have the chance to choose a school that's the best fit for their child.

The biggest fight yet in Kentucky's long war for education freedom is about to get underway. House Bill 208 has been introduced in the Kentucky House of Representatives. This bill would place a question on the November 2024 general election ballot asking Kentucky voters to accept or reject a change to the state constitution allowing the legislature to adopt and fund school choice programs that do not use money already appropriated for public schools. 

A constitutional amendment is necessary because Kentucky judges, violating legal precedent from other states and even the United States Supreme Court, have repeatedly ruled that previous school choice laws adopted by the General Assembly are illegal under the state constitution.

The language of the proposed amendment changes Section 183 of the Kentucky constitution to read as follows (bold type represents new words):

To ensure that parents have options to guide the educational path of their children, the General Assembly shall, by appropriate legislation, provide for and oversee a[an efficient] system of common schools throughout the State, and provide for a portion of the educational costs for parents of students outside of that common school system. Sections 184 to 189 of this Constitution shall not prevent, nor require a further referendum for, any provision for the educational costs of students outside of the system of common schools for parents of limited financial means, as determined by law, so long as no such funds are taken directly from the common school fund.

Like all bills, the wording of the amendment is likely to change somewhat as it works its way through the General Assembly, but this is the basic "ask" to Kentucky voters.

There are some important things to note about HB 208.

First, if approved by voters, this amendment will not automatically give Kentucky families new education options. It just prevents judges from using the state constitution to circumvent the legislature when lawmakers do, in the future, adopt new school choice legislation. The General Assembly can then introduce charter schools, scholarship tax credits, education savings accounts, or other ways to give low- and middle-income families the same kinds of education options enjoyed by the children of affluent families every day.

Second, it is a persistent falsehood, deliberately spread by the education estabishment, that school choice policies "drain money" from traditional public schools. This amendment makes clear that any future school choice program will be funded outside of the "system of common schools," the constitution's archaic term for "public school system." School choice in Kentucky, following this amendment, will actually increase the total amount of funding for education in the Commonwealth.

Finally, HB 208 must be approved by the Kentucky General Assembly before it goes to the voters. In the past, Kentucky lawmakers have been highly reluctant to pass robust school choice laws, even though Kentucky is completely surrounded by states that have embraced school choice and are experiencing great results. This is a testament to the incredible political power of the education establishment, which will lobby ferociously to keep HB 208 from moving forward. 

Call to action: Kentuckians need to press their representatives in the House hard, first to co-sponsor this bill (as of this writing it already has 18 [29 as of 1/24/2024] sponsors), and then to move the bill from the Committee on Committees into the appropriate House committee for further consideration, and then on to the full floor for a vote. A constitutional amendment requires a three-fifths vote of both chambers, so HB 208 needs 60 votes in the House. 

An important point to tell your lawmaker: they are not technically voting for school choice if they support HB 208. They are voting to give Kentucky voters the chance to decide whether Kentucky should be allowed to consider school choice. There will be enormous amounts of work to do later to convince lawmakers to follow up with strong school choice legislation in a future session. For now, let's just focus on moving this amendment forward so more ordinary Kentucky families can choose the school that best fits the needs of their children. See more information about how school choice works in the links below.

Usual disclaimer: All views expressed on this website are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my employer, other organizations with which I am associated, or anyone affiliated.

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Michael Kello

A referendum vote: The highest form of democracy. This will take an enormous amount of energy and money to get the public educated on this matter. I'm in. Hope there are thousands of others able to help.

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