On school choice

Published 2:37 pm Monday, June 17, 2024

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By Ryan Stanford 

Guest Commentator

 “To give parents choices in educational opportunities for their children, are you in favor of enabling the General Assembly to provide financial support for the education costs of students in kindergarten through 12th grade who are outside the system of common (public) schools by amending the Constitution of Kentucky as stated below? 

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‘The General Assembly may provide financial support for the education of students outside the system of common schools. The General Assembly may exercise this authority by law, Sections 59, 60, 171, 183, 184, 186, and 189 of this Constitution notwithstanding.’”

Kentucky’s Constitution, adopted in 1891, currently bars the state from using tax dollars to fund any schools outside of the Kentucky public school system. A vote for “yes” on this ballot item will give supporters of private school vouchers and will grant charter schools “much greater leeway to enact laws in the future, including the authority to enact education legislation applying to a single district or county,” according to the Kentucky Lantern. 

School vouchers are public tax dollars sourced from public school budgets to subsidize private school tuition. 

With the upcoming ballot initiative on “School Choice” in November, we will see millions of dollars poured into ad support for each side. Although I am a firm believer that school choice is something we already have as parents (I can send my child to public school, private school or homeschool them myself), I am also someone who thinks we are better suited when we have more than just 2 options. Maybe such as Universal Pre-K or increased funding into higher education or post-secondary education opportunities? They want to make it seem like it’s “Parent Choice,” but in reality, it would be up to the schools to whom they accept. 

The fact we are going to vote on this indicates that funding is already available for education. Our legislators see dollar signs in vouchers, and in the meantime, they are leaving our teachers and the frontline folks in public education in a stalemate. If we want to retain and attract the best, we must treat them as such. We celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week recently, but that requires more than an apple and a card. Many of our teachers must find second jobs to supplement their incomes as Kentucky ranks 41st in average salary nationally and 45th in new teacher starting pay. Those same teachers have to buy some of their teaching resources and also have to get second jobs to be able to keep up with the cost of living. These same teachers are being told education is failing in this state but are being dealt a rough hand by a state legislature that shakes up a soda can and hands it to them, waiting for it to explode, and our public teachers don’t have the resources to clean it unless they buy it themselves. 

The unfortunate part of all of this is it almost pins public education and private/charter schools against each other. Private and charter schools offer great opportunities for some kids, but they aren’t for everyone. Public schools offer an opportunity for everyone and then we as parents have the choice to do what we feel is best for them. We have some great schools here in Kentucky, both public and private. The priority should be to fund the option that gives everyone the opportunity, not the select few an opportunity. That’s public schools. 

Thinning out our educational resources on private K-12 schools while our public schools remain underfunded and our teachers are undervalued makes no sense. Funding public education K-12 and giving these kids a better chance after they graduate with secondary education opportunities and/or preschool makes a lot of sense to this parent and former student.