Kentucky’s new law allowing scholarship tax credits to support private school tuition on Monday drew a court challenge from an education group, which argues the program is unconstitutional and undermines support to public schools.
The legal showdown has been expected since the state’s Republican-dominated legislature passed the measure – Bill 563 – over Democratic Governor Andy Beshear’s veto in March.
The Institute for Justice, a national lawyer for school choice, said Monday night it was ready to help defend a law it said many families in Kentucky “desperately need.”
The lawsuit was filed in Franklin County Circuit Court by the Council for Better Education. The same group sued over 30 years ago inequalities in funding for Kentucky schools. This case led to the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act.
The council’s new lawsuit focuses on a key part of the new law creating some form of scholarship tax credits – called by advocates of education opportunity accounts. The lawsuit calls this a “diversion of public revenue to private schools” and calls for it to be quashed.
“To avoid the simple constitutional ban on public funding of non-accountable private schools through direct spending, the General Assembly concocted a complicated tax credit program to transfer state revenues through a grant program private, âthe lawsuit said.
“But the objective and the result are the same: under the voucher program, state spending will inadmissibly finance private schools,” he added.
Under the new law, private donors backing the accounts would be eligible for tax credits. The grants, managed by third-party groups, could be used for a range of educational expenses, including private school tuition in many of the state’s most populous counties.
Opponents warn tax credits will cost the treasury up to $ 25 million a year – money they say could go to public education.
Supporters say the measure provides opportunities for parents who want new schooling options for their children but cannot afford them.
“This lawsuit is nothing more than an attempt to deprive Kentucky school children of a much-needed educational opportunity,” said Michael Bindas, senior counsel for the Institute for Justice.
The lawsuit calls for a judge to prevent state revenue officials from implementing the program and rescinding these provisions.
A few weeks ago, Beshear predicted that a waiver of his veto would trigger a legal challenge. Beshear, a former state attorney general, cited a constitutional provision which he said “requires public money to be spent on public schools.”
Supporters of the measure said it would open up new opportunities for parents now unable to afford other educational choices for their children.
âCourts across the country have repeatedly argued that states can create alternatives to the public school system. That’s all the Education Opportunity Accounts (EOA) program does: create alternatives, âsaid Institute for Justice lawyer Milad Emam. “If this misguided lawsuit against the program is successful, Kentucky families will lose access to these alternatives.”
The Council for Better Education said the tax credits would divert money from public schools.
“Every student, no matter what they look like or where they live, deserves access to a high quality public education,” the group said in a press release. âSpending money on voucher programs means denying students the opportunities they deserve in their neighborhood. Public schools because the vouchers steal meager funds from public schools and give them to private schools that have none. accountability or transparency. â
Joining the CBE as plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Frankfort Independent and Warren County Schools, as well as three individuals. The Kentucky Finance Cabinet and the Kentucky Department of Revenue are named as defendants.