Kentucky Senate leader proposes partisan elections for state school board

Latest escalation in tensions over education between Republican supermajority and Democratic governor

By: - January 9, 2024 6:17 pm

Senate Republican Whip Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, sponsored the bill expanding KEES eligibility to “non certified” schools. (LRC Public Information)

FRANKFORT —  Senate Republican Whip Mike Wilson wants voters to begin choosing Kentucky Board of Education members in partisan elections. 

Wilson, of Bowling Green, filed Senate Bill 8 Tuesday. The legislation “would change the selection of Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) members from a unilateral appointment by the governor to an election by voters across all seven Supreme Court districts,” a Senate GOP press release said. 

The 15-member board now has 11 voting members appointed by the governor and four non-voting members.

The legislation from Wilson, a member of Republican Senate leadership, is the latest escalation in tensions between the legislature’s GOP supermajority and Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear on education policies. 

At the outset of his first term in 2019, Beshear appointed all-new members to the KBE, ousting all of the appointees of his predecessor, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin.

Wilson said in the press release Kentuckians should elect “real representatives who have the greatest control over almost half of the state budget.” The General Assembly allocates funds to the Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK), which is “a formula driven allocation of state provided funds to local school districts,” according to the Kentucky Department of Education. KBE is the governing body of KDE. 

“Each governor since KERA (Kentucky Education Reform Act) was implemented over three decades ago has leveraged, and some might say abused, their gubernatorial power with the Kentucky Board of Education,” Wilson said. “It’s time we returned the power to the residents of the commonwealth.”

KERA was signed into law in 1990. 

Wilson’s bill would allow two board members to be elected from each of the seven Supreme Court districts in partisan races, the bill text says. A member will represent one division in each district. Those elected would serve staggered four-year terms. 

Eligible candidates could not have served on a local school board for at least four years prior to their election, under Wilson’s bill. They must also be at least 30 years old, have been a resident of Kentucky for at least three years, have at least an associate degree and cannot be a member of the General Assembly. The bill also adds that each board member will be paid $100 for each board meeting they attend. 

The legislation also would allow members to be removed from office by a vote of five other board members for “misconduct, incapacity, or willful neglect.” Removing a board member would require a two-thirds vote of the board and a public hearing. 

The commissioner of education would not be a member of the board, but could cast votes in the case of a tie.

The president of the Council on Postsecondary Education and the secretary of the Education and Labor Cabinet would remain on the board as ex-officio non-voting members. Non-voting teacher and high school student members, who will serve one-year terms, would be elected to the board on a rotating basis from Kentucky’s six congressional districts.

Wilson is also sponsoring another piece of education legislation this session that would allow Kentucky employees and students to sue their public universities and colleges on grounds they were discriminated against for rejecting “divisive concepts.” 

Last year, the General Assembly passed a law that required the education commissioner to be confirmed by the Senate. Beshear vetoed it and the legislature overrode his veto. Wilson also sponsored that law. 

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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.