Education at center of battle in state government

Published 5:20 pm Thursday, April 19, 2018

Public education seems to be in the middle of quite a statewide battle these days with Governor Matt Bevin on one side and thousands of Kentucky educators on the other.

Bevin ran on a platform of revamping the state’s pension system while also advocating for charter schools, and he has been critical of anyone who disagreed with either idea, especially the Kentucky Education Association.

The governor started a firestorm last week during protests by teachers in Frankfort when he told a reporter that he guaranteed children in Kentucky were sexually assaulted as a result of school closures around the state that kept students home in many district. That statement brought angry responses from all around state government. The Republican-led House approved a pair of resolutions Saturday rebuking Bevin for his comments. One resolution was filed by Democrats. The other was offered by Republican Rep. John “Bam” Carney.

Bevin fired another shot earlier this week when he issued an executive order appointing seven new members to the state education board, including Hal Heiner, former Education and Workforce Development secretary, and the governor’s former communications director, Amanda Stamper. Heiner resigned his cabinet secretary job to take the new post. All seven seats were vacant as of Friday because the terms expired.

The Kentucky Board of Education voted at its first meeting after the new appointments to accept the resignation of Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt. The appointments mean everyone on the board has now been chosen by Bevin, who took office in December 2015.

Pruitt had been commissioner since September 2015. Bevin said Tuesday before the board’s vote he was unhappy with the state’s recent decline in test scores but said the decision to keep Pruitt was up to the board. The decision prompted protests, including a statement from the KEA.

“Despite the outcry of tens of thousands of Kentuckians, today Governor Matt Bevin continued his offensive against public education, this time through proxies and behind closed doors,” said KEA President Stephanie Winkler. “Dr. Stephen Pruitt has been a strong and effective champion for our students and public schools. Forcing an honorable and highly qualified man to resign from his position without any cause is contrary to the best interests of students across the Commonwealth. Unlike our Governor, Commissioner Pruitt made great strides in transparency and accessibility—every administrator, board member and educator knew he was just a phone call away.”

House Democratic Leader Rocky Adkins said that it was “a sad day for public education and the children of Kentucky. This is just another attempt by Governor Bevin to weaken and dismantle Kentucky’s education system and implement his agenda of charter schools.”

We oppose any moves that will weaken a state education system that has the task of educating all of Kentucky’s students. Not following through on commitments to Kentucky’s teachers and diverting money from public schools could hurt all of Kentucky’s students, both today and in the years to come.