Kentucky's Performance-Based Higher Ed Funding Deemed Unconstitutional by State Attorney General


Kentucky's performance-based funding model for higher education faces constitutional scrutiny as state Attorney General Russell Coleman argues that it relies on race, contravening a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on race-conscious admissions.

Kentucky's Performance-Based Higher Ed Funding Deemed Unconstitutional by State Attorney General

(Photo : WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / Peter Fitzgerald)

Challenges to Performance-Based Funding Regulations

Coleman contends that Kentucky's funding regulations, which tie 35% of state higher education funding to institutional performance metrics, are unconstitutional due to their reliance on race. Specifically, Coleman points out that the state's Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) defines "underrepresented minority students" solely based on racial and ethnic categories. This, according to Coleman, effectively incorporates race into the admissions processes of public colleges, violating the Civil Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.

In his opinion, Coleman emphasizes the U.S. Supreme Court's 2023 decision in Students for Fair Admissions, which struck down race-conscious admissions policies. He asserts that defining underrepresented minority students exclusively in terms of race, as done by the CPE, violates constitutional principles. Coleman suggests that promoting diversity in public colleges should involve considering factors beyond race, such as socioeconomic background, first-generation college status, and geographic diversity.

While Kentucky's funding formula incentivizes racial diversity to achieve performance goals, Coleman suggests alternative methods that do not rely on race. This includes considering socioeconomic status and geographic background, which can contribute to achieving diversity without using race as a sole criterion.

READ ALSO: Increased State Funding Boosts Graduation Rates for Underrepresented Students, Study Finds

Implications and Response

Coleman's opinion does not immediately alter the state's funding formula, but it has prompted colleges and universities in Kentucky to review its potential implications. University of Louisville President Kim Schatzel indicated in a campuswide email that the institution is assessing the opinion's impact in consultation with relevant stakeholders.

The opinion comes amid broader debates over diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts in public institutions. Republican state Representative Jennifer Decker, who requested Coleman's opinion, has introduced legislation aimed at restricting DEI initiatives at public colleges. This legislative move underscores the ongoing tension surrounding diversity-related policies and practices in higher education.

The Kentucky case reflects broader nationwide challenges in navigating diversity and inclusion efforts within the bounds of legal and constitutional frameworks. As institutions grapple with these issues, they must strike a delicate balance between promoting diversity and adhering to legal mandates, ensuring equitable access and opportunities for all students.

Furthermore, Coleman's opinion highlights the evolving landscape of race-conscious policies in education following the U.S. Supreme Court's recent rulings. It raises questions about how states can pursue diversity goals while avoiding potential legal pitfalls related to race-based considerations.

Overall, the situation in Kentucky underscores the complexity of addressing diversity and inclusion in higher education, requiring careful consideration of legal, ethical, and practical implications. Colleges and universities across the country are closely monitoring developments in Kentucky as they navigate their own approaches to promoting diversity and equity while complying with legal standards.

Coleman's opinion adds a new layer to the ongoing dialogue surrounding race-conscious admissions and diversity initiatives in higher education. As institutions seek to foster inclusive environments and promote student success, they must navigate the legal landscape to ensure compliance with constitutional principles while advancing diversity goals.

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