I am a public school parent who has been observing Kentucky education for over a decade.
I spent my entire grade school career in Kentucky public schools in the age when the head of Kentucky's education was an elected position. In the 1990s, KERA tried to reduce politics in education by making this position an appointed one using an appointed education board to select the candidate. Back when Republicans and Democrats could agree that public education was important and worth supporting, this board focused on what was best for students drawing on board members from all viewpoints and walks of life.
This all shifted under Governor Matt Bevin. Bevin hated public education and spent his entire four years trying to undermine it. This included his selections for Kentucky's Board of Education. This board was not just made up of political supporters, but of people with a shared agenda of privatizing education. Its members didn't include public school educators or parents, but instead mostly private school parents, people with close ties to private and charter schools, people serving religious interests, and those who had an anti-government ideology.
Those selections include Hal Heiner, Milton Seymore, Gary Houchens, and the man they appointed to run education, Wayne Lewis. All four have ties going back almost a decade trying to bring charters to Kentucky. The only educator on the former board, Gary Houchens, is a part of several libertarian ALEC aligned think tanks who seek to privatize education and bust unions. Kathy Gornik is rabidly libertarian and part of tea-party leadership in the state. Among the board members there was a history of racist statements, homophobic actions, rejections of sound science, and outrageous attacks on teachers. They forced out an experienced and well-liked education commissioner. They replaced him without a search, choosing Wayne Lewis, who was in lockstep with Hal Heiner's ambitions to privatize education and had been for years. In short, this board was an unqualified and purely political beast whose goals were completely against what we should be looking for in the individuals guiding our department of education.
Had Matt Bevin taken a non-political route in his choices for Board of Education members, Andy Beshear would not have had to take the drastic action to remake the entire board. While you may not share his political party, I find it hard to believe you don't support a board with people that have actual education experience and desire to improve public education, not dismantle it.
Senate BIll 10 is a lousy bill that intends to formally reintroduce politics into education by taking powers away from the Governor's office and mandating that the board reflect the political makeup of the state. Our purpose should be to assemble boards with a purpose of strengthening public education, not one that leans toward any political agenda. Additionally, the requirement that minority representation reflect an amount proportional to the state would seem to prohibit the appointment of more minority members to the board. Given that one of our biggest issues in Kentucky is a minority achievement gap, this seems like an incredibly bad idea.
I beg all supporters of this bill to reconsider. Andy Beshear's board may not be perfect, but it's certainly better than the highly politicized board that came before. SB10 is a bad bill. Please reject it and vote no if it comes up for a vote.