Kentucky education department will support ‘every child,’ says interim chief

Published 4:49 pm Tuesday, October 3, 2023

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By McKenna Horsley

Kentucky Lantern

Robin Fields Kinney, who just began her second stint as interim education commissioner, told reporters Monday that the department she’s leading aims to support every Kentucky child, including students who are part of the LGBTQ+ community.

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“Whether we’re talking about LGBTQIA+, or we’re talking about students that come from a lower socioeconomic background, or we’re talking about students that have special needs, we value each and every one of them and that won’t change,” Kinney said. “We’re here to service all children, each child, every child every day.”

Kinney succeeds Jason Glass at the helm of the Kentucky Department of Education. Glass had said publicly that Senate Bill 150 — a controversial law that restricts how schools can teach topics like sex and gender, bars transgender students from using the bathroom of the gender that they identify with and frees school employees to misgender students — was something he had no interest in implementing. Glass left Kentucky to become the associate vice president of teaching and learning at Western Michigan University.

Glass, who became the education commissioner in 2020, was widely criticized by Republican legislators and gubernatorial candidates for the department’s inclusive stances toward LGBTQ+ students. In addition to passing Senate Bill 150 earlier this year, the General Assembly passed a law requiring the next education commissioner to be confirmed by the Senate.

Kinney, who said the public will likely not see sweeping policy changes from her as the interim commissioner, told reporters that a summit Glass has proposed for this fall to support LGBTQ+ students will not happen but the idea would be shared with the future permanent commissioner.

Kinney is not eligible for the permanent position. However, if the legislature requires her to be confirmed by the Senate per state law, she would be willing to participate, she said. When former Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis left the department in late 2019, Kinney served as interim for six days.

The Kentucky Board of Education appointed Kinney to take over from Glass in a special meeting in mid-September. She said the last education commissioner search took about eight months, meaning Kinney could potentially lead the department through the next legislative session, which begins in January.

The General Assembly must consider the state’s biennial budget. Kinney said some priorities the department will request include universal pre-kindergarten programs and fully funding transportation for public school students.

Transportation became an issue in Jefferson County Public Schools earlier this year after a new plan to deal with a shortage of bus drivers created a chaotic first day of school and caused students to arrive home hours late. In August, some GOP lawmakers called for a special session to consider changes, such as splitting JCPS, which is the largest public school district in the state.

“As the General Assembly considers any action, we would hope that they are receptive to having informed decisions, being able to make informed decisions,” Kinney said, adding that KDE would provide any needed information or data for lawmakers.

As for the search for the permanent commissioner, Kinney said a solicitation for bids from search firms has closed and responses will be reviewed.