Kentucky Board of Education regains its independence

With little fanfare, today Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear signed HB 178, which prohibits governors from doing what Beshear himself did in December 2019 when he fired me and the ten other members of the Kentucky Board of Education for purely partisan reasons, quickly initiating the resignation of then-Commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis. HB 178 is an historical development that restores some of the political independence of KBE originally intended by the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990.

HB 178, sponsored by Republican Representative Steve Sheldon and passed by the House and Senate, stipulates that while governors will retain their authority to appoint members of the Kentucky Board of Education, going forward governors may not “reorganize” KBE under KRS 12.028, the statute Beshear used to justify his removal of every sitting KBE member on his first day in office, fulfilling a campaign promise. The law also says that going forward, KBE’s membership must reflect the political, gender, and ethnic make up of the state’s registered voters.

Beshear’s current appointees to KBE may retain their seats until the ends of their terms, and may be reappointed only to the extent that they meet the demographic requirements of the new law (presently there is not a single Republican on the board, so at least half will be ineligible to serve another consecutive term).

Beshear, who owed his gubernatorial victory in 2019 to the rabid support of the state’s education establishment and the failed leadership of his predecessor Gov. Matt Bevin, had turned KBE into a meaningless political football. Bevin’s appointees to KBE were openly supportive of school choice and education accountability. In April 2017, on the day after Bevin statutorily obtained a majority of appointees to KBE, new board members controversially forced the resignation of popular education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt and replaced him with Wayne Lewis, a conservative professor of education and policy advisor to the Cabinet for Education and Workforce Development. Lewis shared KBE’s concern for accelerating student achievement and was critical when teachers initiated an illegal work stoppage when protesting potential pension and school choice reform measures.

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