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In First Act As Governor, Beshear Remakes Kentucky Board Of Education

Gov. Andy Beshear.
Erica Peterson
Gov. Andy Beshear.

On a frigid December day in the capital of Frankfort, Democrat Andy Beshear took the oath of office and announced he was on the verge of fulfilling several key campaign promises.

One of Beshear’s first acts in office was to overhaul and appoint new members to the State Board of Education, swiftly replacing the 11 appointed by his predecessor, Republican Matt Bevin, who had a tense relationship with the state’s educators.

“These members were not chosen based on any partisan affiliation, but based on their commitment to make our schools better. To put our children first,” Beshear said in his inaugural address on Tuesday.

Beshear is the first governor to overhaul and reform the state Board of Educationsince the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1990. The move prompted an immediate response from the previous board members, who announced they will file a motion in Franklin Circuit Court, challenging the legality of Beshear's order.

“We strongly feel that this action by the governor is of questionable legality and must be tested in the courts,” said KBE member Dr. Gary Houchens in a statement. “Unlike other Kentucky government boards, the make-up of the KBE is governed by the Kentucky Education Reform Act, which provides a clear process for a new governor to appoint new members to the KBE on a staggered basis, every two years.  Board members today are seeking to set aside the governor’s order and allow an orderly transition of board control over a two year period, as intended by KERA.”

In an interview with WFPL, Houchens added that besides being a matter of law, he believes there's an important principle at stake, too:

“And that principle is there should be a buffer between the governance of the K-12 education system and the more brutal elements of partisan politics," he said.

The new members appointed to the Board of Education include:

Teachers and educators played a major role throughout Inauguration Day, including as grand marshals of the parade. New Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman is a public school educator and will serve as the secretary of the education cabinet.

“Starting today, public education is a top priority in Kentucky,” she said to cheers in her inaugural address. “That the voices of our classroom educators, the people on our front lines, will take a prominent role in shaping public policy.”

In a statement, Kentucky Education Association President Eddie Campbell said the KEA supports Bevin's move to reconstitute the board.

"Under the previous Administration, board appointees were based more on political pedigree than on their experience and knowledge of educational issues," he wrote. "We have confidence that the Beshear Administration will make appointments based on merit, and choose board members who possess a foundational understanding of the challenges facing public education in the Commonwealth. The students of Kentucky deserve a board of education that works for the improvement of public education and not for partisan purposes.”

In his speech, Beshear reiterated another campaign proposal, saying that the budget his administration submits next year to the legislature will include a $2,000 raise for teachers, which he has estimated will cost $84 million.

“Prioritizing our children also means prioritizing their teachers,” he said. “If Kentucky is to compete nationally, not to mention with our neighbors, we need to pay our teachers a living wage.”

Beshear also committed to signing an executive order on Thursday that would restore voting rights to “more than 100,000 men and women who have done wrong in the past that are doing right now.” If he restores voting rights to people convicted of felonies who have served their sentences, it could reshape Kentucky’s electorate. It would also overturn Bevin’s overturning of a similar voting rights order issued by his predecessor Steve Beshear, Andy’s father.

This post has been updated.

Amina Elahi is LPM's City Editor. Email Amina at aelahi@lpm.org.

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