LEXINGTON (AP) — Kentucky has spent nearly $18 million over the past six years to bus students to private schools, most of which are religious. That’s despite the fact that the state constitution prohibits state funds from aiding any “church, sectarian or denominational” school.
The Lexington Herald-Leader reports state financial records show that 8,375 private school students were bused last year using a subsidy of $2.9 million. In addition, many local governments kick in their own funds because the state subsidy does not cover the entire need.
In 2013, 19 counties requested about $3.9 million in subsidy from the state and got about $3 million, leaving an unfunded gap of $830,000.
The subsidy began in its current form in 1998 under Democratic Gov. Paul Patton. It was challenged, but the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled 4-to-3 against the challenge in 1999. The majority opinion found the subsidy was not state aid for religious schools, but rather aid for children attending the schools.
In March, the General Assembly voted to boost the subsidy to $3.5 million annually.
State Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, is chairwoman of the House budget subcommittee that oversees K-12 schools. She says the public schools have need for the money now spent sending children to private schools.
“These are families who have chosen not to attend public schools, which is certainly their right. But we are under no obligation as a state to pay for their choice,” Flood said.
But House budget chairman Rick Rand, D-Bedford, who unveiled the subsidy increase during state budget negotiations this spring, framed the issue as one of student safety.
“Any time we can create safety for school transportation, whether public or private, I think it’s important,” he said.