Republican gubernatorial candidate Kelly Craft on Monday issued two statements, hours apart, in which she first appeared to tone down and later to double down on her vow, made at a campaign stop last week, to dismantle the Kentucky Department of Education.
A Democratic opposition research group had recorded and on Monday released Craft’s remarks from a Feb. 2 campaign event in Versailles.
In response to the comments becoming public, her campaign on Monday afternoon released a statement from Craft in which she vows to “dismantle our current board and start over.”
“This was an open press event, nothing was leaked,” Craft said in her statement. “No one can hide that our current State Board of Education and Department of Education are a mess — pushing woke agendas in our schools. I’ll dismantle our current board and start over. I’ll empower parents, send more resources to the classroom, and end the woke nonsense being pushed in our schools.” While her first statement criticized the department, it called for dismantling only the state school board.
Hours later, Courier Journal of Louisville and the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that the Craft campaign had released another statement: “Kelly said she will dismantle the Kentucky Department of Education and revamp the entire department and replace it, along with the state school board, with people who empower parents and will make sure teachers teach the ABC’s not the CRT’s.”
CRT is a reference to critical race theory, an academic concept that has become a catch-all criticism by conservatives for a host of diversity and anti-racism efforts.
During the Feb. 2 campaign event in Versailles, Craft said: “I will tell you that one of the very first pieces of action as governor — the Kentucky Department of Education will be dismantled.” A recording of Craft speaking at the event was released by the liberal super PAC American Bridge 21st Century, which posted a snippet of Craft’s remarks on Twitter.
The PAC provided the Kentucky Lantern with a 53-minute audio clip from the event.
In the longer clip, applause is heard after Craft says she would dismantle the state education department.
“We must revamp this entire department and when I’m governor and I appoint people to the state school board, I want those individuals to be Senate-confirmed,” she said at the Versailles event.
Craft also asserted in Versailles that the state Department of Education discourages teachers from having relationships with parents. She said Kentuckians must know who their governor is appointing to make decisions about curriculum in schools.
In 2021, the General Assembly passed a law that prevents the governor from removing members of the board without cause. Current Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear created a new state board of education on his first day in office in 2019 through an executive order (Beshear is seeking a second term).
Craft prefaced her comment about dismantling the department by acknowledging that teachers must worry about factors affecting students outside of class, such as if the students are hungry, have proper clothing or face abuse at home.
American Bridge 21st Century was founded in 2010 by David Brock and conducts opposition research to aid Democratic candidates and organizations. A spokesperson for the super PAC said one of its staff members attended the event and recorded Craft’s remarks.
Before she released her statements on Monday, Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, another Republican gubernatorial candidate, took Craft to task, saying “Can you imagine a Kentucky without public education? I can’t. Neither can my wife or my children, my siblings, or my parents.”
He says “to suggest, as it appears Kelly Craft has, that dismantling this system is the answer to its problems is not leadership at all. Our public education system is one of the institutions that make America so special. And in America, we don’t run from our problems. We tackle them head-on. Education is one of the primary pillars of the Keck Game Plan, and as your governor, I will work to reform our system to reach our kids sooner, train them for jobs of the future, and provide holistic solutions to the challenges they face. I’ll also fight to ensure parents have a choice and a voice in the process. I will not quit. I’ll put in the work as governor alongside Kentucky teachers and administrators to make our education system one of the best in America.”
Craft and Keck are two of 12 Republicans in the race for governor. The primary election is May 16.
This article has been updated with new information.
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