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State Senate Should Weigh In On Education Commissioner, Legislator Says

Thomas Galvez/Creative Commons
Thomas Galvez/Creative Commons
Thomas Galvez/Creative Commons

The appointment of Kentucky's top education official would be subject to state Senate confirmation under a bill pre-filed last week in the General Assembly.

State Rep. Kenny Imes, a Murray Republican, said he's seeking to add accountability to the state's education department.

"I think the public should have the right to have a voice in who is running our education system in Kentucky, along with their elected representatives," he said. "The state by constitution is charged with providing the public education, and as such I just don't think it ought to be totally run by KEA or any specific group."

A spokesman for the Kentucky Education Association did not return an email request for comment on Monday.

The Kentucky education commissioner is appointed by the state Board of Education, which is appointed by the governor. Under current law, the Senate confirms the governor's appointments to the education board, according to information provided by the Legislative Research Commission.

Last weekend, the state Board of Education interviewed a dozen candidates for the education commissioner post. The person chosen will replace the retiring Terry Holliday, the state education commissioner since 2009.

The board's chosen candidate will serve a term spelled out in a contract. But this will be the last time that happens if Imes' bill wins legislative approval in the 2016 session.

Imes said the current process for appointing a state education commissioner removes public oversight.

"Whether anybody likes it or not, politics is going to be involved in it," Imes said. "And I just think elected people need to have more say in it because that's where the public is going to get the accountability."

Imes said the federal Common Core standards are an example. Kentucky was an early adopter of the Common Core, which has supporters as well as critics among educators and political leaders.

Imes said he's also planning to file a bill proposing that the state's top education official be elected in a statewide vote. That used to the case, but the role was changed to an appointed post in the 1990s during a push for state education reform.

Brent McKim, president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, said in an email that a goal of the Kentucky Education Reform Act in the 1990s was to "de-politicize as many aspects of public education as possible."

"I think many across the state would see it as a step backwards to re-politicize the process," McKim said of Imes' proposal.

Roger L. Marcum, chairman of the state Board of Education, declined to comment, saying he hadn't yet reviewed the bill.

Imes said he's unsure if his proposal will get a hearing next year in the Democratic-controlled state House of Representatives. But he said he's hopeful the bill will lead to further discussion of the hiring process.

Rep. Derrick Graham, a Frankfort Democrat and chair of the House education committee, could not be reached for comment.  A spokesman for Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo did not return a request for comment Monday.

Joseph Lord is the online managing editor for WFPL.

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