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Lawmakers advance bill to let students use KEES scholarships at for-profit schools

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The state gives high school graduates college scholarships based on their GPA. Some lawmakers want students to be able to use the funds at for-profit schools.

Kentucky high school graduates would be able to use state scholarship money to attend for-profit colleges and trade schools under a bill lawmakers passed out of a House committee Tuesday morning.

The legislation, HB 234,would allow students to use their Kentucky Education Excellence Scholarship, or KEES funding, at licensed, for-profit schools in Kentucky. 

KEES gives Kentucky high school graduates scholarships to private and public Kentucky colleges and universities. The amount of the scholarship is based on the student’s high school GPA, scores on standardized tests and the completion of higher-level coursework such as Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes. A 4.0 GPA earns a student $500 a year towards college.

Current statute only allows colleges and universities to accept KEES money if they are eligible for the federal Pell Grant program. That means the schools have to have special accreditation not always bestowed on for-profit trade schools, such as for-profit welding schools or cosmetology schools.

“I believe that this is money that these students have already earned, and they should be able to use that,” Rep. William Lawrence said. The Maysville Republican is the bill’s primary sponsor. A similar measure passed the House in 2021 with broad support, but died in the Senate.

Lawrence said the bill would increase access for students to trade schools and boost the supply of skilled workers.

“The reality of it, try to hire an HVAC person today or an electrician or a plumber or someone like that—they’re very few and far between,” he told the committee.

The measure had broad support in committee, though several members expressed concerns about how much it would cost. Rep. James Tipton, a Republican from Taylorsville, noted KEES funds are raised by the state lottery and are therefore limited.

Lexington Rep. Killian Timoney, a Republican, agreed lawmakers should proceed cautiously to avoid impacting the amount of funding available for students through KEES.

“We just need to make sure that we can pay for everything,” Timoney said.

Lawrence said he could not provide an estimate for the fiscal impact of the measure.

Louisville Democratic Rep. Attica Scott voted against the measure over concerns about the financial impact. She also noted that students can already use KEES money for trade school in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. The state’s system of public community colleges offers programs in welding, cosmetology, HVAC repair and many other vocations.

National research shows for-profit higher education institutions that accept federal student aid, such as Pell Grants, tend to raise tuition to absorb the aid, rather than allowing it to benefit low-income students.

While the legislation does not create guardrails against tuition hikes, Lawrence noted it does include provisions to keep “fly-by-night” schools from receiving KEES money.

Under the bill, schools have to be licensed by the state, have headquarters based in Kentucky, and have been in operation for at least five years before becoming eligible.

The measure heads to the full House for further consideration.

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