McCracken’s County’s Judge Executive has expressed his support for the county school district’s busing of private school students.
According to a Lexington Herald Leader article, state financial records show that Kentucky spent nearly $18 million to pay for busing at private, mostly religious schools, in two dozen counties over the last six years.
Last week, the McCracken County fiscal court voted to authorize along up to $9,000 of state funds to the school system to recover the additional costs of busing about 15 students to private schools.
“For many years here in McCracken County we have received money from the state that we then pass in to the McCracken County School Board and it helps them to pick up children, for example in the St. John’s area, and those children are transported on public school buses, to example St. Mary’s School facilities,” said Judge Executive Van Newberry.
McCracken has a contract with the St. Mary School System to transport students that live in the county.
“They pay property taxes, they pay school taxes and I guess this is how they try to balance that out and make it a little more fair. So I’m sure they see it that way that it is fair. Their children may go to a private parochial school but they're still paying those public school taxes,” said Newberry.
Newberry says the state looks at the number of private school students that ride public school buses as well as the mileage to calculate the amount to be refunded. He says the amount provided to his county from the state has dropped from $12,000 to $9,000.
McCracken County School System public relations director Jayme Jones says there are 4,320 McCracken County students that ride buses to school.
“2013-2014 school year we had 15 non-county students that we transported," said Jones. "We transported them 29 miles a day.”
In other area counties: Hopkins County transports a total of 4,600 students, Christian County buses approximately 6,500, and Graves County Schools bus around 3,800 students, none of which are non-public.
According to the Herald Leader article, in March, the General Assembly voted to boost private school bus subsidies from $2.9 million annually to $3.5 million, a 17% increase.
Kentucky's constitution prohibits state funds from aiding "any church, sectarian or denominational school" prompting a few state lawmakers to question the subsidies' legality. However, they admit the subsidy is politically popular in many counties and is likely to go unchanged.
The article quotes State Rep. Kelly Flood (D-Lexington), chairwoman of the House budget subcommittee overseeing K-12 schools:
"Do I have a problem with private school students getting public money to get to private schools? Yes, I do" said Flood. "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."