© 2024 Louisville Public Media

Public Files:
89.3 WFPL · 90.5 WUOL-FM · 91.9 WFPK

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact info@lpm.org or call 502-814-6500
89.3 WFPL News | 90.5 WUOL Classical 91.9 WFPK Music | KyCIR Investigations
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Stream: News Music Classical

Under Republican bill, voters would elect Kentucky Board of Education members in partisan races

Voting occurs at Fairdale High School.
LPM
Voting occurs at Fairdale High School.

Voters would choose Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) members in partisan elections under a bill filed last week by Republican Senate Majority Whip Mike Wilson of Bowling Green.

After a string of attempts by politicians to tinker with the KBE, Senate Bill 8 would completely overhaul the 15-member board that governs the state’s public schools.

Under current law, the 11 voting members of the KBE are appointed by the governor. SB 8 would shift the decision to voters who would choose 14 members of the board in partisan elections — two members for each of Kentucky’s Supreme Court districts.

Wilson said his goal is to make the KBE less beholden to the political interests of the governor’s office.

“The accountability needs to be to the citizens of Kentucky — not to the governor,” Wilson said.

He noted that in recent years, governors of both major political parties have sought to retool the board or the Kentucky Commissioner of Education, which is appointed by the KBE.

In 2017, former Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, filled the KBE with his appointees who then ousted the state’s top education official and installed their own commissioner. Then, when Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear defeated Bevin in 2019, he overhauled the board and installed his appointees, who then ousted the education commissioner chosen by their predecessors.

“Every governor has tried to be the governor of education — tried to control the board of education as well as department of education,” Wilson told LPM News.

Wilson said board members shouldn’t feel obligated to the governor, “but obligated to the people of Kentucky who put their students in our public school systems.”

Under SB 8, the first election for KBE members would be held in 2026. The bill retains the current four-year term for board members. It also retains non-voting membership for one current teacher and one current high school junior, along with the president of the Council on Postsecondary Education and the secretary of the Education and Labor Cabinet.

Jefferson County Teachers Association President Brent McKim told LPM he opposes making KBE positions partisan.

“We do not need to make the Kentucky Board of Ed more political, we need to make it, if anything, less political,” McKim said. “We’ve seen what overly partisan politicians have done at the national level … We need a Kentucky Board of Ed that is focused on teaching and learning, and that means it should remain nonpartisan.”

Wilson said making the election partisan “gives much more information to a voter” on where candidates stand on issues.

The bill has support from the chairs of key Senate committees. Wilson said there’s also support from some House members, though he hasn’t had conversations with House leadership.

Since Beshear came into office, the GOP-led legislature has passed several laws chipping away at the governor’s power over KBE and the department it oversees. In 2021, Republicans passed a law, which Beshear signed, that prevents the governor from overhauling the board in the future and requires membership to reflect the demographic and political representation of the state.

In 2023, lawmakers passed a measure requiring the KBE’s pick for commissioner of education to be confirmed by the GOP-led state senate. Beshear and many Democrats opposed the change.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.