Beshear vetoes bill giving Senate power over education commissioner
Kentucky law is supposed to insulate the state’s education commissioner and board from politics. But the position has become a political battleground in recent years as governors and lawmakers fight over control.
Gov. Andy Beshear has vetoed a bill that would give the Republican-controlled state Senate final say over who gets to be Kentucky’s top education official.
GOP lawmakers passed Senate Bill 107 after taking issue with LGBTQ-inclusive school policies, like the Kentucky Department of Education’s recommendation that teachers use trans and nonbinary students’ correct pronouns.
The bill would require the Kentucky commissioner of education to be confirmed by the state Senate. Currently the state Board of Education is in charge of hiring the commissioner.
In his veto message, Beshear said the bill would politicize the process of hiring commissioners.
“Requiring Senate confirmation […] will undermine the Board of Education’s decision that is based on a thorough process, and will keep good candidates from wanting to seek the office because politics could stop them from carrying out the office after the Board has hired them,” he wrote.
The GOP-dominated legislature will likely override the veto when they return for the final two days of the legislative session next week.
The Kentucky Education Reform Act, the state’s landmark education law from 1990, sought to insulate the Board of Education and commissioner from political whims.
Before 1990, Kentucky’s education commissioner was an elected statewide official, but since KERA, the commissioner is hired by the Board of Education, which is composed of 11 members with staggered terms appointed by the governor.
But in recent years, the process of hiring a commissioner and appointing an education board has become incredibly political in Kentucky.
After former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s appointees took control of the Board of Education in 2018, the board forced out former Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt 18 months before his contract was up and hired Bevin’s ally Wayne Lewis to fill the job.
Then when Beshear took office in late 2019, he fulfilled a campaign promise and replaced the entire board of education, who then in turn fired Lewis and hired Glass, the current commissioner.
Conservative lawmakers say Glass is “politicizing” the job. During a speech on the House floor last week, House Speaker Pro Tem David Meade, a Republican from Stanford, accused Glass of forcing teachers to follow policies that go against their beliefs.
“What the commissioner is saying is, ‘It doesn't matter what your convictions are, it doesn't matter what your beliefs are, it doesn't matter about your First Amendment rights to religion. If you work in the school system, you either accept the policy given to you by KDE or find another job,’” Meade said.
In response, Glass criticized lawmakers for passing anti-LGBTQ bills like Senate Bill 150, which bans gender-affirming medical care for minors and requires schools to develop trans bathroom policies.
“The Kentucky Legislature is following a terrifying, but sadly well-trodden path,” Glass wrote last week. “In the long-run, history does not reflect well on such regimes. And in the short-run, we should all be concerned about who will be their next target.”
Beshear also vetoed SB 150 this week. The final two days of the legislative session are March 29 and 30.
Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund.