Bill subjecting state education commissioner to Senate confirmation advances from House committee

State school board chair says change would roll back 30 years of progress in education

By: - March 13, 2023 6:36 pm

The chair of Kentucky’s state school board says Senate Bill /// would reverse 30 years of education progress. (Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

FRANKFORT — The chair of the Kentucky Board of Education is criticizing a bill that would subject the state education commissioner to Senate confirmation, saying it would turn back 30 years of progress in education. 

Senate Bill 107 would also limit the state’s top school officer to a four-year contract that could be renewed. The House Education Committee approved the bill Monday.

In response, Lu Young, chair of the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE), said in a statement that she worries the bill “would reverse the progress we have made during the past three decades and return the state to a time when the leadership of Kentucky’s public schools was determined by political capital and connections, not professional experience.”

Young added: “Currently, the Kentucky Department of Education operates independently, which allows the commissioner to focus on what truly matters — our students and educators. 

 “The KBE stands unified in support of the way we select our state education chief and we remain committed to ensuring every student has access to high-quality, lifelong learning.”

The Senate approved SB 107 on Feb. 23 by a 29-4 vote. 

On Monday, primary sponsor Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, told the House committee that under a committee substitute, the bill would no longer change the nomination process for state school board members. The original bill would have created a nominating committee to submit names to the governor. 

Wilson likened the bill’s requirement for the education commissioner’s Senate confirmation to the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s hiring process. The Board of Education would still hire the commissioner and the Senate would confirm the hire, Wilson said. The commissioner’s contract would be for only four years, but the same person could be hired again under a new contract. 

“And if the commissioner’s doing a great job, it’s not a problem,” Wilson said. 

Citing the Kentucky Education Reform Act’s goal of removing politics from education, Wilson said recent governors of both parties have politicized the Department of Education. He cited Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s appointment on his first day in office of new state school board members to replace previous Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s appointees.

Wilson said his bill would lessen politics in education, an assertion disputed by other lawmakers.

Wilson faced questions from Louisville Democrats Rep. Tina Bojanowski and Rep. Josie Raymond about how the bill would remove politics from the Kentucky Board of Education. 

“You may say that this is following KERA (Kentucky Education Reform Act) in keeping politics out of education but I think it plunks it right down in politics,” Bojanowski told Wilson. 

Before voting “no” on the bill, Rep. Lisa Willner, D-Louisville, echoed Wilson’s earlier comments about how KERA aimed to remove politics from education, though she said that “we have seen that erode in recent years” because “we’re in the midst of some really politically-based culture wars” that put schools and public education professionals on the front lines. 

“To me this makes that dangerous situation even worse for our students and our teachers,” Willner said. 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

McKenna Horsley
McKenna Horsley

McKenna Horsley covers state politics for the Kentucky Lantern. She previously worked for newspapers in Huntington, West Virginia, and Frankfort, Kentucky. She is from northeastern Kentucky.