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Kentucky Republicans and Democrats prepare to face off on ‘school choice’ amendment


Kentucky Republicans and Democrats prepare to face off on ‘school choice’ amendment

Apr 16, 2024 | 3:31 pm ET
By McKenna Horsley
Kentucky Republicans and Democrats prepare to face off on ‘school choice’ amendment
The Kentucky Capitol in Frankfort on February 27, 2024. Photo by Arden Barnes

FRANKFORT — As the dust settled on the General Assembly’s 2024 session, Republican and Democratic lawmakers began gearing up for a fierce fight on a constitutional amendment to allow public dollars to go to private schools.

The amendment will be on the ballot this November. 

Putting the question to voters had been a GOP priority heading into the session. Democrats consistently opposed the idea in floor debates and committees. 

On Tuesday, both sides turned their attention to the amendment, previewing arguments Kentuckians will be hearing this election season.

Kentucky Republicans and Democrats prepare to face off on ‘school choice’ amendment
Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer speaks at a podium flanked by fellow Republican senators. (Kentucky Lantern photo by McKenna Horsley)

Senate Republican Floor Leader Damon Thayer, who is not seeking reelection, said he plans to be “very vocal” on convincing Kentucky voters to pass the measure, which will be known as Amendment 2. In a press conference with other GOP Senate leaders, Thayer, of Georgetown, said the “school choice” amendment was among the Republican accomplishments he was most proud of this session, which ended Monday. 

“I think it has a very good chance to pass but I’m also not naive,” Thayer said. “There will be a lot of money spent to try to defeat it, but we think that there are going to be groups coming into Kentucky and groups from Kentucky who are going to be investing heavily in media and grassroots to pass Amendment 2 this fall.” 

Republican Senate President Robert Stivers said he believed charter schools and public schools “can live together and actually thrive together.”

 The constitutional amendment, which was known as House Bill 2 during the legislative session, is the Republican supermajority’s answer to courts striking down charter school legislation in the past. The Kentucky Constitution bars using tax dollars to fund any but the state’s “common schools” (or public schools), and courts citing the Constitution have struck down the General Assembly’s attempts to steer tax dollars into private or charter schools. 

“I think it would answer the question once and for all, and I know that several people voted for the school choice amendment to settle that question: What do the people of Kentucky want?” Stivers said. 

Kentucky Republicans and Democrats prepare to face off on ‘school choice’ amendment
Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Colmon Elridge, middle, speaks to media with Senate Minority Floor Leader Gerald Neal, right, and House Minority Caucus Leader Cherlynn Stevenson. (Kentucky Lantern photo by McKenna Horsley)

Since it requires a ballot vote, the legislation for the constitutional amendment was not subject to a gubernatorial veto. Nevertheless, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has vowed to oppose the constitutional amendment — and leaders in the Kentucky Democratic Party (KDP) plan to follow suit. 

Democrats also held a press conference Tuesday to talk about the legislative session. KDP Chairman Colmon Elridge called Amendment 2 “shameful” and pointed to other recent GOP-backed amendments that failed at the polls, like a constitutional amendment to clarify that there is no right to an abortion in the Kentucky Constitution. Kentucky voters defeated that amendment in 2022.

Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Cherlynn Stevenson, of Lexington, said Democrats must “respond loud and clear in November that public taxpayer dollars do not belong in private schools.” She predicted the amendment will fail. 

“Public schools are the largest employer in most of our state’s counties and are a vital source of income for our families,” Stevenson said. “Draining them of funds would amount to financial catastrophe and create an unnecessary strain on local economies.” 

Amendment 2 will appear on ballots with another constitutional amendment that will likely drive Republicans to the polls — a measure to clarify that noncitizens of the United States cannot vote in any local or state elections in Kentucky.