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School choice bill narrowly clears Kentucky General Assembly, veto expected

House Bill 563 would allow students to change school districts, create tax credits for sending some children to private schools.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — It passed by just one vote, the Kentucky House Bill 563 divided the Republican supermajority and saw one Democrat lawmaker vote with the remaining GOP representatives to propel the so-called “school choice” bill to the desk of Governor Andy Beshear.

The legislation would allow parents to move their children from one school district to another. That child would have to sit out of athletics for one year if they switched districts.

School districts would be required to create a policy regarding how they would deal with these types of transfer.

The most controversial part of the plan involves creation of organizations that would fund tuition or supplies at private schools for children whose parents applied for financial help. Kentucky would create $25M in tax credits for those donating to the program.

HB 563 passed on a vote of 48 to 47.

46th District Democrat, Representative Al Gentry, was the only member of his party to join a divided Republican supermajority. The outspoken supporter of public teachers, Gentry said he did not agree with the bill but was voting for it because that was the majority opinion in his district.

“The hardest votes we have to make on this floor, by far, are supporting bills that personally we don’t agree with but the vast majority of our constituents who elected us do," Rep. Gentry said.

Gentry’s district may have the most Catholic residents than any district in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. As he explained his vote on the House floor, Rep. Gentry mentioned Catholic parishes with families he had voted for.

Magoffin County Republican, Representative John Blanton, voted against the plan.

“We could be putting that $25M into our public schools, that's much needed," Rep. Blanton said.

While sponsor, Majority Whip Chad McCoy, may be working to find 51 votes needed to override a veto, Rep. Blanton does not expect a phone call.

“I'm one of them that they know they're not going to sway on this issue," he said.

The original bill also funded full-day kindergarten but that aspect was pulled from the bill before it passed. 

Representative McCoy told the House that a bill to fund full-day kindergarten will come up for a vote when lawmakers return to the Capitol on March 29.

To read a full copy of the bill, click here.

►Contact reporter Chris Williams at cwilliams@whas11.com. Follow him on Twitter (@chriswnews) and Facebook. 

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