By BRUCE SCHREINER Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Republican lawmakers on Friday put the political fight over whether taxpayer money should be able to flow to private or charter schools in the hands of voters to decide.
The proposed school choice constitutional amendment won final passage in the Senate by a vote of 27-8, capping a rapid series of votes this week to put the issue on the statewide ballot in November. If it is ratified, lawmakers could then decide whether to support private or charter school education with public funds.
Lawmakers on both sides of the issue agreed on one thing during the debates: The stakes are sky-high.
“This is very, very important for the state of Kentucky,” Republican Sen. Stephen West said in supporting the measure. “This is a game changer. This will dictate where we are 25 years from now.”
On Wednesday, Democratic Rep. George Brown Jr., who opposed the bill, called it a “turning point” in the “education of our children and the future of this commonwealth.” Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear vowed the following day to “work every day” to defeat the amendment.
The push for the constitutional amendment follows court rulings that said tax dollars must be spent on the state’s “common” schools — a reference to public schools — and cannot be diverted to charter or private institutions.
Friday’s debate in the Senate set the tone for the coming campaign.
Republican Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, in supporting the bill, said some of the biggest beneficiaries of school choice would be minority parents whose children are “trapped in bad schools.”
“The people of the commonwealth deserve to have the chance to open up more opportunities for low-income and middle-class families who are looking for different options for their kids,” Thayer said. “Ninety-five to 98% of kids are still going to go to traditional public schools. And this General Assembly will continue to keep throwing more and more money at” public education.
Opponents said public education would suffer.
“I think we should call this bill what it is. This is the public dollars for private schools act,” Democratic Sen. Cassie Chambers Armstrong said. “This is a bill to amend our Kentucky constitution so that the legislature can divert our hard-earned taxpayer dollars from our public schools to private schools.”
Beshear will align with the Kentucky Education Association, a union representing tens of thousands of public school educators, in opposing the measure. During the Senate debate, Thayer said the state’s “education establishment” wants to protect the status quo.
School choice has been debated for years in Kentucky as Republicans expanded their legislative majorities. Past efforts that were meant to expand school choice options were foiled by legal challenges, prompting the push to amend the state constitution.
In 2022, Kentucky’s Supreme Court struck down a measure passed by GOP lawmakers to award tax credits for donations supporting private school tuition.
And last year a circuit court judge rejected another measure to set up a funding method for charter schools.
As the spirited Senate debate wrapped up, Republican Sen. Matthew Deneen turned his attention to the voters who will render their verdict this fall.
“I encourage everyone, no matter your position, to vote on this matter in November,” he said. “Let your voices be heard. It is better for the people of the commonwealth to decide this than” the legislature.