Kentucky gov supports lawsuit challenging charter school law

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday he supports a lawsuit aimed at blocking a school choice law giving charter schools a foothold in the state and supplying them with a funding stream.

The Democratic governor aligned himself with public education advocates who contend that the measure should be struck down. The suit — filed late last week in Franklin County Circuit Court — claims the measure would siphon money from school districts in violation of the state constitution.

“The charter school bill is unconstitutional,” Beshear said Thursday at his weekly news conference.

“I worry that a lot of this comes down to dollars, and it’s merely an effort to send dollars that go to public education to private corporations,” he said. “That’s wrong.”

The case is the latest legal showdown over school choice policy in Kentucky.

School choice advocates suffered a setback last month, when Kentucky’s Supreme Court struck down an effort to award tax credits for donations supporting private school tuition.

Beshear, a former attorney general, said Thursday that the same legal principles should extend to the charter schools case.

“The Kentucky Supreme Court’s recent opinion couldn’t be clearer — public dollars have to go to public schools,” the governor said. “I believe that precedent will be applied — or should be applied — and I believe that it was clear enough that the Supreme Court will apply it.”

Contentious school choice issues are likely to surface in this year’s race for Kentucky governor, as Beshear seeks a second term and a dozen Republicans compete for their party’s nomination.

Beshear vetoed the charter school measure last year, but the Republican-dominated legislature swept aside his objections in overriding the veto.

In his veto, the governor said the measure would divert money from traditional public schools into charter schools, which he said would lack appropriate levels of oversight and accountability. Charter school supporters say charters would give parents more choices for their children’s schooling.

“If successful, this lawsuit will result in many Kentucky parents continuing to be denied an affordable option for better public educations for their children,” the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, a Kentucky-based free market think tank, said in a statement this week.

The new law requires that two charter schools open — one in Louisville, the state’s largest city, and another in northern Kentucky — to study the impact of charter schools. The measure also created a permanent funding stream for charters.

Kentucky lawmakers authorized charter schools in 2017, but none were created in ensuing years because the legislature didn’t provide a permanent funding mechanism. That changed when Republican lawmakers enacted the 2022 law creating a long-term funding method for charters.

“The competition from school choice creates a rising tide that lifts all boats in public education, whether in traditional or charter schools,” the Bluegrass Institute said this week.

Plaintiffs challenging the charter school law include the Council for Better Education, a nonprofit corporation representing public school districts. The suit also was filed on behalf of Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville and the Dayton Independent Board of Education in northern Kentucky.

The state attorney general’s office is reviewing the case “to determine next steps,” Krista Buckel, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Daniel Cameron, said this week. The attorney general’s office was not named as a party in the lawsuit. Cameron is among the Republicans running for governor.

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