Economic forum will talk Kentucky school choice



Bailey Vandiver

The John H. Schnatter Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise is hosting a discussion entitled “What’s Next for Kentucky Schools?” on the future of public education under President Donald Trump, particularly school choice, vouchers and charter schools.

The Schnatter Institute, named after Papa John’s Pizza CEO, President and founder John Schnatter and co-founded by the Charles Koch Foundation, opened in December 2015. The primary mission of the $10 million center is to create understanding and appreciation of many issues, including public policy, according to associate professor of economics and Schnatter Institute Associate Director Aaron Yelowitz. The education system falls under the issue of public policy and affects “economic prospects.” 

“The economics profession has shown that investment in human capital leads to higher earnings and greater economic opportunity,” Yelowitz said, who organized the event and will moderate discussion. “In the U.S., this investment in human capital comes through education.”

Yelowitz became interested in planning the event when he realized that the main conversation in education had shifted from Common Core to school choice. The issue became even more prevalent when Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin signed a controversial bill allowing charter schools in the Commonwealth. Critics of the bill claimed the schools could be susceptible to mismanagement and a focus on profit over education.

Yelowitz said that UK has many experts who can debate the issue with real evidence that some other coverage of the issues lacks. 

The 60-minute forum will be a discussion among four panelists: Ron Zimmer, UK professor and Director of Martin School of Public Policy and Administration; Wayne D. Lewis, Jr., Executive Director of Education Policy and Programs in the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet and UK associate professor of educational leadership; Joseph Waddington, UK assistant professor of education; and John Garen, BB&T professor of economics and Director of the John H. Schnatter Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise.

“I picked scholars who are deeply knowledgeable about education issues from different parts of campus,” Yelowitz said. These panelists will present their own opinions about the future of the Kentucky and national education systems based on their research.

The event will be Thursday, March 30, at 4:30 p.m. in Woodward Hall, room 307, of the Gatton building. Those planning to attend should RSVP online at