Education Politics

State House lawmakers are trying, again, to pass a bill allowing students with felony convictions to use their Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship, or KEES, funding.

Kentucky high school students are eligible to get a certain amount of college funding based on their GPAs and test scores through the KEES scholarship program, which is funded by the state lottery.

The higher a student’s GPA, the more funding the student receives, up to $2,000 if they maintain a 4.0 GPA for four years. Students can also earn more based on their ACT score, or scores on Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) or Cambridge Advanced International (CAI) exams.

But, under the current law, students convicted with a felony can’t use their KEES funding. Lexington Republican Rep. Killian Timoney’s bill would change that, and allow students with felony convictions to access the funding.

“This is a compassionate bill,” Timoney told the House education committee Tuesday, adding, “I made a few mistakes when I was in high school.”

“We’re removing something that’s going to prevent a potential student from going onto higher ed and bettering themselves,” he said.

The bill has support from the ACLU of Kentucky and Greater Louisville, Inc. (GLI), Louisville’s chamber of commerce. Charles Aull, GLI’s Director of Public Policy Development, said the bill would improve workforce development and promote racial equity.

“Our criminal justice system has had a disproportionate impact on Black Kentuckians, and to that end, we have to do everything we can to ensure that everyone has equitable access to opportunity, including educational opportunities,” Aull told the committee.

“This will strengthen Kentucky families by reducing recidivism through education,” said policy strategist Amanda Hall, with the ACLU of Kentucky. 

According to that organization, the most common felony charges against Kentuckians  aged 14-18 are wanton endangerment, criminal mischief and burglary. In the last two fiscal years, the state’s public defenders have represented 3,099 teenagers charged with felonies.

The House education committee passed the bill unanimously with bipartisan support. The full House passed a similar bill last year, but it died in the Senate.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.