The Kentucky Legislature passed a bill targeting the state’s top education official
Amid culture war clashes over LGBTQ-inclusive school policies, Kentucky lawmakers passed a bill that would give the GOP-controlled Senate the power to confirm or deny the state’s education commissioner.
Senate Bill 107 requires the state Senate to confirm the appointment of the Kentucky commissioner of education, as well as the commissioner’s reappointment, which happens every four years.
The measure cleared both chambers last week and is awaiting a decision by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear on whether to sign.
“The commissioner made a couple of comments that many of us found alarming,” said Republican Rep. David Meade of Stanford. He was referring to a pledge from Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass to stand behind LGBTQ-inclusive school policies when confronted during an early-session House education committee meeting.
Many conservative representatives objected to a Kentucky Department of Education recommendation that teachers use trans and nonbinary students’ correct pronouns.
“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 on the floor.
Louisville Rep. Tina Bojanowski, one of many Democrats who voted against the measure, said the bill was “just plopping everything right back into politics.”
Democratic Rep. Josie Raymond, also of Louisville, noted that the Board of Education members, who select the education commissioner, are already confirmed by the Senate.
“So I'm sort of puzzled why we need to add this additional layer of oversight or micromanagement,” she said.
Meade responded that the new process would ensure the selection is “transparent.”
“There's nothing political about this bill, I can assure you,” he said, but later rebuked the Democratic governor.
“The governor has just sat back and allowed his commissioner to do as he pleased.”
Asked about passage of the measure, a KDE spokesperson sent a statement, attributed to Glass.
"Serving as Kentucky's Commissioner of Education has been a wonderful professional honor. Even during the challenging times, I have loved every minute of it. Looking forward, I have a contract with the Kentucky Board of Education which I intend to finish. We will see what happens after that.”
Under the measure, Glass would have to be reconfirmed by the Senate in 2024, if his contract is renewed by the State Board of Education.
In a separate statement from KDE spokesperson Toni Konz Tatman, Kentucky Board of Education Chair Lu Young is quoted saying she worries the measure “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.”
Despite attacks from the right, Glass doubled-down Friday in a statement admonishing lawmakers for passing Senate Bill 150, which would prevent schools from having a wide array of LGBTQ-inclusive policies and ban gender-affirming medical care for minors.
“The Kentucky legislature is following a terrifying, but sadly well-trodden path. 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,” Glass wrote in an emailed statement.
“To LGBTQIA+ people and youth in Kentucky – we see you, we love you and we will continue to protect you from bullying and bigotry. In times like these, we all must find the courage to steady ourselves and to be as brave as we can.”
In the same statement, Glass announced that KDE will be holding a summit this fall in support of LGBTQ people and youth.
If Beshear decides to veto either SB 150 or SB 107, the Legislature’s Republican supermajority will allow lawmakers to override the move.