DeVos said the Education Freedom Scholarships program, with pending legislation in Congress, was a great opportunity for students in Kentucky and across the nation because it meets the needs of kids who dont fit in where theyve been assigned in public schools.
US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos holds panel discussion in Lexington
Education Freedom Scholarships would create a federal tax credit that would allow families to control the use of scholarships for their childs elementary and secondary education, which could include career and technical apprenticeships and dual enrollment in high school and college programs.
DeVos said she came to Kentucky because the state can help her advance the proposal at the federal level.
I know you are having very important discussions and debates on policy here in the state now. You have many students who need to have this kind of opportunity, she said.
Her proposal would inject up to $5 billion yearly into locally controlled scholarship programs, federal officials have said. Individual and business taxpayers nationwide would contribute to scholarship granting organizations. The contributors would receive a nonrefundable dollar-for-dollar federal tax credit, but no contributor would be allowed a total tax benefit greater than the amount of the contribution.
I am encouraged to see leaders like Gov. Bevin and Commissioner (Wayne) Lewis working to expand education opportunities in their state, DeVos said in a statement. They are dedicated to rethinking education and improving outcomes for all students.
During our roundtable, we received great feedback on our Education Freedom Scholarships proposal, DeVos said. If passed, Kentucky could receive up to $72 million for scholarships for students. These funds could be used for a myriad of opportunities, including access to apprenticeship programs, summer and afterschool education programs, or transportation to and out of district public schools.
Lewis and Kentucky Secretary of Education and Workforce Development Derrick Ramsey were among those talking about DeVos school-choice proposal at the event at Bluegrass Community and Technical Colleges Newtown Campus.
I believe in opportunity. I believe in choice, Bevin said as the meeting opened. How tragic that in Kentucky …we have disputes based on funding, based on territorialism, based on politics, none of which take into consideration the whole purpose for using taxpayer money for education… None of these disputes have anything to do with whats best for the child.
Later, he told reporters that the issue should not be political. There is nothing political about educating children, he said. It shouldnt be a financial issue because it is depending on the generosity of individuals. It is the federal government coming along and trying to prime that pump and encourage the right decisions being made.
Bevin said he had known DeVos for a few years and was struck by her passion and desire to see opportunity come for every kid.
DeVos appearance comes at a time when opposition forces in Kentucky have been successful in thwarting recent school choice efforts.
Charter schools have been approved in the state since 2017 but none have opened. Groups that want to open a charter school say they have been stalled because the General Assembly has not approved a funding mechanism for charters.
With strong opposition from public school teachers, a bill failed in the 2019 General Assembly that would have allowed businesses and individuals to receive a tax credit for their donations to a scholarship-granting organization. The organizations would have provided scholarships to low- and middle-income students to attend a private school in Kentucky.
I know youve had a few frustrations, DeVos told the school choice advocates. I just wanted to encourage you to keep at it and keep fighting.
The Education Freedom Scholarship website said that DeVos proposal would not take money away from public schools.
Lewis said if passed by Congress, Education Freedom Scholarships could be used to advance the Kentucky Department of Educations priorities, namely increasing participation in high-quality, early-learning experiences and increasing student access to dual credit courses and career and technical education programs.
DeVos said that states such as Florida have used scholarship tax credits to create programs for children with disabilities, and Kentucky could do the same. She said her federal proposal was simple and would give Kentucky flexibility.
We have a ways to go to convince enough of our Congressmen and women to support this at the federal level, DeVos said. But DeVos said momentum is building and President Trump supported the proposal.
The Kentucky Education Association criticized the event in a statement Wednesday afternoon: Students, parents and educators in Kentucky who have seen school budgets and programs gutted under the leadership of Matt Bevin could face no starker a reality than handing the future of public education over to he and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Todays gathering of education reformers was nothing more than a collection of big donors who want to gut public school budgets in favor of for-profit voucher and charter school funding.
The KEA added: Todays meeting was nothing more than a photo-op for a failed governor and a failed education secretary who refuse to listen to those who may disagree with their proposals.
And some state Democratic lawmakers from Lexington issued a statement that said, It is ironic that U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is in Lexington today with Governor Matt Bevin for a roundtable discussion and none of the Fayette County Legislative Delegation appears to have been invited. It isnt surprising, however, considering our governor consistently excludes key officials, stakeholders and constituent groups in talks about important areas of education like funding, teacher training and pension reform. In addition, any meeting with Secretary DeVos must include discussions about why she so strongly supports educational choice and how that threatens public education across the nation.
Kentucky Board of Education Chairman Hal Heiner, board member Gary Houchens, and other Kentucky school choice advocates were among the more than 20 people on the roundtable. There was no representative from a public school district, but Bevin said, Every single person who sat around this table cares about the children, not about funding, not about territory, not about power, not about politics. They care about parents. They care about students. It was a broad representation of people who care about those things.
Heather Huddleston, executive director of School Choice Scholarships, a Louisville non-profit that grants scholarships to offset the costs of private and parochial schools for families with financial need, introduced Kesia Hatcher, a mother of four children that her group helped in the past.
Hatcher said the scholarships her children received to a private school for children with learning differences were life-changing. Two have since graduated from the University of Kentucky, one is at Louisvilles Sullivan University and another attends Centre College in Danville, she said.
The roundtable in Kentucky is one of several events DeVos plans to host around the country to discuss the benefits of the Education Freedom Scholarships proposal.
DeVos and Bevin on Wednesday were also scheduled to stop in Benton in Western Kentucky. They planned to announce a grant for the Marshall County School District to help in its recovery from the January 2018 fatal shooting of two students at Marshall County High School.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) – United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, joined by Governor Matt Bevin, held a roundtable discussion in Lexington on Wednesday, that focused on the issue of school choice.
It is something Secretary DeVos says President Donald Trump is extremely passionate about and campaigned on. Secretary DeVos and Governor Matt Bevin talked through the topic with a panel made up of leaders from various education organizations, community leaders, as well as a current student and her mother.
Governor Bevin explained his belief in opportunity and choice, and his desire to give every student and their family access to whatever opportunity is out there. He says that is a huge factor in achieving the American dream.
Secretary DeVos talked about her current proposal, called Education Freedom Scholarships. It would set up a federal tax credit for donations to the program. She says they are encouraging people to think more broadly about what exactly choice means in education, and how each state needs to identify the needs of their students. Under her proposal, specifics of the program would be set at the state level.
Whether it is more access to career and technical education opportunities, or dual enrollment opportunities, or transportation to a program that might be out of reach for a student due to geography, and then some of the more traditional opportunities for choices whether parents want to send their child to a faith-based school or a school that specializes in an area of interest to a student. The possibilities are really limitless, said Secretary DeVos.
There were a few members of Kentuckys Board of Education at the roundtable, however there were not any superintendents or other representatives from public school systems.
Lawmakers did try to pass a scholarship tax credit bill here in Kentucky. That bill saw a lot of opposition. Secretary Devos noted that and told those present to not be discouraged and to keeping fighting.
From Lexington, Governor Bevin and Secretary DeVos are traveling to Marshall County High School. They will present a School Emergency Response to Violence grant as the community continues to recover from last years shooting.