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Ky. Sued Over Summer Fees for Nonpublic Students

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Private-school students should be able to receive summer-school services mandated by Kentucky's education-reform law without having to pay tuition, a new lawsuit contends.

The suit against the state education department was filed late last month by the parents of two pupils in Roman Catholic schools, with the backing of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky.

Under the state's 1990 reform law, public-school pupils who do not meet certain learning goals must be provided free after-school, weekend, or summer remediation classes.

The state department has interpreted that mandate to exclude students in nonpublic schools. In an April 19 memo to local superintendents, Commissioner of Education Thomas C. Boysen said that while districts could choose to admit private-school pupils into their summer programs, the students must pay tuition.

But the Catholic Conference, which represents 168 Catholic schools that serve about 45,000 students in the state, has challenged that view.

The summer-school sessions are "taxpayer services," said Kenneth Dupre, executive director of the conference. "The programs should be open to any child who needs them," he argued, regardless of where they attend school during the academic year.

Mr. Dupre said that he had met with state officials over the issue, but could not get them to budge from their view that neither the state constitution nor state law allowed public schools to enroll private-school students in their summer programs without charge.

The constitution requires that all public-school funds be used "for no other purpose" than public-school support, and bars state funds raised for education from aiding any church-affiliated school.

Mr. Boysen, in a statement released by his office, offered to request and abide by an opinion on the issue from the state attorney general's office. He conceded that it was a "gray area" of the law.

Because summer-school programs were scheduled to begin by June 10, however, the Catholic Conference decided to proceed with a lawsuit, filed May 30 by parents whose children attend Catholic schools in Lexington and Alexandria.

The students need remedial reading help and were going to be required to pay tuition for the summer sessions offered by the public-school districts, Mr. Dupre explained.

In response, a Franklin County Circuit Court judge issued a temporary restraining order requiring the districts in Fayette and Campbell counties to provide free services to the students named in the suit.--mw

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