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The Kentucky legislature, controlled by Republicans, passed voucher legislation. The Governor, Democrat Andy Bashear, seems certain to veto it.
Linda Blackford of the Lexington Herald-Leader wonders why Republicans are both anti-public school and anti-teacher, since most of them graduated from public schools and send their own children there. Why are they so eager to take money away from their community schools to fund what are almost certain to be inferior choices? Is it revenge on teachers for leading protests against pension changes?
Back in the 1990s, Kentucky was a shining model of a state that valued education. The Kentucky Education Reform Act revolutionized school funding by creating a central pot of property taxes rather than an uneven patchwork of rich and poor. There was much more: cracking down on corruption and nepotism, raising academic standards, new money for teacher training, important supports for struggling children.
But over the past two decades, the state’s politics have turned crimson and all that potential — and state support for it — is slipping away. Why do Republicans appear to dislike and distrust public schools so much? Is it because their teachers are represented by politically powerful unions that happened to get our Democratic unicorn governor elected? Is it because those unions negotiated pretty good pension promises? Is it because they resisted reopening schools? Is it because the very notion of public education recognizes that government can do good things?
“I think what you see is a demonization of public education that’s coming from all these right wing groups,” said Nema Brewer, a co-founder of 120 Kentucky United, an education advocacy group that helped defeat Republican plans for teacher pensions and elect Beshear in 2019. “The Republican Party of Kentucky has bought into this demonization of public schools, completely forgetting the majority of them are products of public schools. It’s just amazing to me that this is what’s happened.”
Those Republicans got their political revenge on Tuesday night when they passed House Bill 563, what’s known as a “neo-voucher bill.” It hurts teachers and rural school districts, while creating more segregation and less school funding, a veritable lottery for the GOP.
By now, the research on vouchers is compelling: they don’t raise the academic achievements of students. Voucher schools are typically inferior to public schools because they are free to hire uncertified teachers and principals. They discriminate at will. Why would Republicans think it was a good idea to waste public money on low-quality religious schools or to subsidize the tuition of students already in religious schools?