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School Choice and Education Issues

Renee Shaw and guests discuss school choice and education issues. Guests: Eddie Campbell, president of the Kentucky Education Association (KEA); Heather LeMire, Kentucky State Director of Americans for Prosperity; Brigitte Blom, president and CEO of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence; and Jim Waters, president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions.
Season 30 Episode 39 Length 56:33 Premiere: 02/12/24


Kentucky Tonight

KET’s Kentucky Tonight, hosted by Renee Shaw, brings together an expert panel for in-depth analysis of major issues facing the Commonwealth.

This weekly program features comprehensive discussions with lawmakers, stakeholders and policy leaders that are moderated by award-winning journalist Renee Shaw.

For nearly three decades, Kentucky Tonight has been a source for complete and balanced coverage of the most urgent and important public affairs developments in the state of Kentucky.

Often aired live, viewers are encouraged to participate by submitting questions in real-time via email, Twitter or KET’s online form. Viewers with questions and comments may send an email to or use the contact form. All messages should include first and last name and town or county. The phone number for viewer calls during the program is 800-494-7605.

After the broadcast, Kentucky Tonight programs are available on and via podcast (iTunes or Android). Files are normally accessible within 24 hours after the television broadcast.

Kentucky Tonight was awarded a 1997 regional Emmy by the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. The series was also honored with a 1995 regional Emmy nomination.

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Watch on KET’s website anytime or through the PBS Video App.


The Kentucky Tonight podcast features each episode’s audio for listening.

Renee Shaw is the Director of Public Affairs and Moderator at KET, currently serving as host of KET’s weeknight public affairs program Kentucky Edition, the signature public policy discussion series Kentucky Tonight, the weekly interview series Connections, Election coverage and KET Forums.

Since 2001, Renee has been the producing force behind KET’s legislative coverage that has been recognized by the Kentucky Associated Press and the National Educational Telecommunications Association. Under her leadership, KET has expanded its portfolio of public affairs content to include a daily news and information program, Kentucky Supreme Court coverage, townhall-style forums, and multi-platform program initiatives around issues such as opioid addiction and youth mental health.  

Renee has also earned top awards from the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS), with three regional Emmy awards. In 2023, she was inducted into the Silver Circle of the NATAS, one of the industry’s highest honors recognizing television professionals with distinguished service in broadcast journalism for 25 years or more.  

Already an inductee into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame (2017), Renee expands her hall of fame status with induction into Western Kentucky University’s Hall of Distinguished Alumni in November of 2023.  

In February of 2023, Renee graced the front cover of Kentucky Living magazine with a centerfold story on her 25 years of service at KET and even longer commitment to public media journalism. 

In addition to honors from various educational, civic, and community organizations, Renee has earned top honors from the Associated Press and has twice been recognized by Mental Health America for her years-long dedication to examining issues of mental health and opioid addiction.  

In 2022, she was honored with Women Leading Kentucky’s Governor Martha Layne Collins Leadership Award recognizing her trailblazing path and inspiring dedication to elevating important issues across Kentucky.   

In 2018, she co-produced and moderated a 6-part series on youth mental health that was awarded first place in educational content by NETA, the National Educational Telecommunications Association. 

She has been honored by the AKA Beta Gamma Omega Chapter with a Coretta Scott King Spirit of Ivy Award; earned the state media award from the Kentucky Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 2019; named a Charles W. Anderson Laureate by the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet in 2019 honoring her significant contributions in addressing socio-economic issues; and was recognized as a “Kentucky Trailblazer” by the University of Kentucky Martin School of Public Policy and Administration during the Wendell H. Ford Lecture Series in 2019. That same year, Shaw was named by The Kentucky Gazette’s inaugural recognition of the 50 most notable women in Kentucky politics and government.  

Renee was bestowed the 2021 Berea College Service Award and was named “Unapologetic Woman of the Year” in 2021 by the Community Action Council.   

In 2015, she received the Green Dot Award for her coverage of domestic violence, sexual assault & human trafficking. In 2014, Renee was awarded the Anthony Lewis Media Award from the KY Department of Public Advocacy for her work on criminal justice reform. Two Kentucky governors, Republican Ernie Fletcher and Democrat Andy Beshear, have commissioned Renee as a Kentucky Colonel for noteworthy accomplishments and service to community, state, and nation.  

A former adjunct media writing professor at Georgetown College, Renee traveled to Cambodia in 2003 to help train emerging journalists on reporting on critical health issues as part of an exchange program at Western Kentucky University. And, she has enterprised stories for national media outlets, the PBS NewsHour and Public News Service.  

Shaw is a 2007 graduate of Leadership Kentucky, a board member of CASA of Lexington, and a longtime member of the Frankfort/Lexington Chapter of The Links Incorporated, an international, not-for-profit organization of women of color committed to volunteer service. She has served on the boards of the Kentucky Historical Society, Lexington Minority Business Expo, and the Board of Governors for the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. 

Host Renee Shaw smiling in a green dress with a KET set behind her.

Panelists Debate the Goals of Proposed Legislation to Introduce School Choice in the Commonwealth

In late 2022, the Kentucky Supreme Court struck down a Republican-backed law that would have given state tax credits to individuals who donate to private school scholarship funds. The court said the law violated the Kentucky Constitution by diverting tax dollars away from public education.

The ruling dealt a significant blow to school choice advocates in the commonwealth who want to provide students and families with educational options beyond traditional public schools.

Now, House Republicans have proposed legislation to amend the constitution to allow state dollars to support schools outside of the public system. Should either House Bill 2 or House Bill 208 pass the General Assembly, the question could appear on the ballot for voters to decide this November.

“I don’t think the founders of our commonwealth intended to deny education freedom back when they wrote the constitution,” says Jim Waters, president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions. “School choice isn’t for every child in Kentucky, but it should be available to every child.”

Waters says the proposed amendments don’t advocate for one particular school alternative, such as charter schools, home or microschools, or even parochial schools. Instead, he says the goal is to remove any constitutional barriers to the state helping families afford the option they might desire.

Opponents of the proposed amendments contend school choice already exists in Kentucky, and that creating a funding mechanism for non-public schools is an unnecessary and unwise use of limited tax dollars.

“If we’re going to have this discussion, we should first fully fund and focus on the public school system that was intended by the framers of our constitution,” says Kentucky Education Association President Eddie Campbell. “We don’t need to be trying to build another system on top of a system that we already have.”

A Range of Education Options Beyond Public Schools

Calls for school choice have increased in the state over the past decade as public schools have struggled to improve reading and math scores and address achievement gaps among certain groups of students. Some parents and lawmakers are also critical of how public schools present certain subjects from thorny historical topics to human sexuality.

Heather LeMire, Kentucky state director of Americans for Prosperity, says the drive for school choice intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic when schools moved from in-person to virtual instruction.

“Parents were just disillusioned with what was happening with their children’s education and they wanted opportunities to put their child in the best educational environment for their child,” says LeMire.

Public school advocates acknowledge the challenges facing traditional schools in the commonwealth. After making significant gains in the wake of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990, Brigitte Blom says Kentucky has recently dropped from eighth to 29th in fourth grade reading scores, and from 33rd to 41st in math scores.

“We’re going in the wrong direction as a state and that is undeniable,” says Blom, who is president and CEO of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. “Do we have real problems that need to be solved? Absolutely we do, and we must spend those dollars wisely if we’re going to return to a point of progress.”

Blom says the best strategy is to invest in evidence-based instructional programs that are clearly shown to improve student performance. She says public schools should also provide wrap-around services to support a student’s mental and physical wellbeing, which she says can also impact a child’s success in the classroom. She points to dramatic improvements in reading and math scores among Black students at a Henderson elementary school that brought a wealth of community resources to bear on the academic experience of children there.

As for alternative education options, Blom says there is no unbiased research that shows private school choices supported by public dollars perform better than traditional public schools. The one exception, she says, is charter schools that specifically serve marginalized students in urban areas.

Public charter schools generally follow the same academic and accountability standards as public schools but are given greater latitude to try novel educational approaches. In Kentucky, charters would have to accept students on a first-come, first serve basis, or select them by lottery if enrollment demand exceeds capacity. Other private school options such as religious-based schools, home schools, or microschools that can involve children from a handful of families usually don’t have to abide by the same standards and can select which students they accept.

“There’s a lot of innovative ideas that can come from a variety of different school institutions,” says LeMire. “We want families to be able to make that decision and choose what’s best for own their child.”

Even without a public funding mechanism for alliterative schools, Campbell argues that Kentucky parents already can decide where and how they want to educate their children. But Waters counters that those options are currently limited by a family’s ability to pay a non-public school’s tuition, or their ability to move to a community with better school options.

More Funding for Public Schools

Choice advocates point to Florida as a potential model for the commonwealth. Waters says in the years after KERA, Florida trailed Kentucky in school performance. But since school choice was implemented there, he says Florida as surged passed Kentucky.

“The more choices they’ve given parents, the better their public education system has performed,” says Waters. “This isn’t about destroying public education. This is about improving it.”

What’s more, Florida has made those gains while spending less on public education than Kentucky does, according to Waters. He says the debate here should focus on putting the needs of students ahead of the needs of any particular education system.

Before amending the state constitution to allow tax dollars to go to school choice options, Campbell says lawmakers should use the current budget surplus to invest more in public schools. He says Kentucky ranks 40th in the nation in average teacher pay, and 44th in pay for first-year teachers. Even though per-pupil funding to schools known as SEEK has increased over the years, Campbell says it has not kept up with inflation. Schools currently receive $4,200 per student. Under the House budget proposal, that amount would go up to $4,455 by the end of the biennium.

“It should be around $5,500 right now,” says Campbell. “Can you image what our public schools could do, how they could provide opportunities for our students with $1,000 extra per student… to provide smaller class sizes, to provide tutoring, to provide other opportunities that students don’t have right now.”

But spending more on public education doesn’t guarantee better outcomes, says Waters. He contends schools today actually receive about $17,000 per student when you include local, state, and federal funding sources. With some 45 other states allowing charter schools, Waters says it’s time to fully give Kentucky families that option. He says if the alternative schools don’t perform as promised, then parents will simply stop using them.

But devoting public dollars to school choice endangers the quality of instruction public school students could get, according to Blom. She contends the wise use of tax dollars for public schools will benefit children and the state and return Kentucky to a place of national prominence in education.

“We can do that again if we ground our strategies and our investment in what research shows is going to work,” says Blom. “It’s critically important, as the sixth-poorest state in the nation, we do that well if we are going to achieve economic competitiveness and the economic prosperity of Kentuckians.”

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Season 30 Episodes

Reviewing the 2024 General Assembly

S30 E44 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 04/15/24

Final Negotiations on the State Budget

S30 E43 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 03/25/24

School Safety

S30 E42 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 03/11/24

Early Childhood Education

S30 E41 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 02/26/24

Abortion Legislation

S30 E40 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 02/19/24

School Choice and Education Issues

S30 E39 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 02/12/24

State Budget Discussion

S30 E38 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 02/05/24

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in Higher Education

S30 E37 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 01/29/24

Safer Kentucky Act

S30 E36 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 01/22/24

Legislative Priorities in the 2024 General Assembly

S30 E35 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 01/08/24

Governor Andy Beshear's Budget Address

S30 E34 Length 56:36 Premiere Date 12/18/23

2024 Legislative Preview: Part Two

S30 E33 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 12/04/23

2024 Legislative Preview

S30 E32 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 11/20/23

Analysts Discuss What to Expect on Election Day 2023

S30 E31 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 11/06/23

Candidate Conversations: Lieutenant Governor

S30 E30 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10/30/23

Candidate Conversations: Governor

S30 E29 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10/23/23

Political Analysts Forecast the 2023 General Election

S30 E28 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10/17/23

Secretary of State; Commissioner of Agriculture

S30 E27 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10/09/23

Auditor of Public Accounts; State Treasurer

S30 E26 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 10/02/23

Kentucky's Economy, Jobs and Taxes

S30 E25 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 09/25/23

Higher Education in Kentucky

S30 E24 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 09/18/23

Kentucky's Health Care Challenges

S30 E23 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 09/11/23

Education Issues in Kentucky

S30 E22 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 08/21/23

Fancy Farm Preview and Kentucky Politics

S30 E21 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 07/31/23

Kentucky's Energy Needs

S30 E20 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 07/17/23

Artificial Intelligence

S30 E19 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 07/10/23

Jobs, Inflation and the Economy

S30 E18 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 06/26/23

SB 150 and LGBTQ Issues

S30 E17 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 06/19/23

Horse Racing Safety

S30 E16 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 06/12/23

A Discussion of Gun Laws

S30 E15 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 06/05/23

Recapping The 2023 Kentucky Primary

S30 E14 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 05/22/23

2023 Primary Election Preview

S30 E13 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 05/15/23

Republican Candidate for Secretary of State

S30 E12 Length 15:00 Premiere Date 05/08/23

Republican Candidates for Governor

S30 E11 Length 1:29:20 Premiere Date 05/01/23

Candidates for Treasurer and Commissioner of Agriculture

S30 E10 Length 1:15:06 Premiere Date 04/24/23

Challenges Facing Kentucky Schools

S30 E9 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 04/17/23

Policy Analysts Recap the 2023 General Assembly

S30 E8 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 04/10/23

Recap of the 2023 Kentucky General Assembly

S30 E7 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 04/03/23

Kentucky Legislation on LGBTQ+ Youth

S30 E6 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 03/20/23

Student Discipline Legislation

S30 E5 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 03/13/23

Gambling Proposals in the Kentucky General Assembly

S30 E4 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 02/27/23

Kentucky's Teacher Shortage

S30 E3 Length 56:33 Premiere Date 02/20/23

Exploring Local Government Issues

S30 E2 Length 56:35 Premiere Date 02/13/23

Child Abuse and Neglect in Kentucky

S30 E1 Length 56:34 Premiere Date 02/06/23

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Review of the 2024 Kentucky Lawmaking Session - S31 E3

Renee Shaw hosts a review of the 2024 Kentucky lawmaking session. Scheduled guests: State Sen. Phillip Wheeler (R-Pikeville); State Sen. Cassie Chambers Armstrong (D-Louisville); State Rep. Rachel Roarx (D-Louisville); and State Rep. Michael Sarge Pollock (R-Campbellsville). A 2024 KET production.

  • Monday April 22, 2024 8:00 pm ET on KET
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Kentucky Tonight - S31 E5

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Kentucky Tonight - S31 E6

  • Monday May 20, 2024 8:00 pm ET on KET
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Legislative Session Recap - S31 E2

  • Wednesday April 17, 2024 5:00 am ET on KET
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  • Tuesday April 16, 2024 9:00 pm ET on KETKY
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State Budget - S30 E44

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