A bill banning governors from reorganizing the Kentucky Board of Education passed out of a legislative committee on Tuesday morning.
House Bill 178 comes more than a year after Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear replaced the entire board of education as one of his first acts in office.
The measure would also require the racial, political party and gender makeup of the board to be proportional to the state’s representation.
Rep. Steve Sheldon, a Republican from Bowling Green, said the bill would prevent Kentucky Board of Education members from being treated like “political pawns.”
“They should never be shuffled around to meet some agenda. We trust those people that are appointed on there and they do a great job,” Sheldon said.
In 2019, Beshear replaced all 11 voting members on the Board of Education before the end of their two-year terms, fulfilling a campaign promise that rallied educators who disagreed with priorities of the board appointed by former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin.
The move was an unprecedented use of the governor’s power that allows him to reorganize state boards and commissions while the legislature isn’t in session.
And it led to the ouster of former Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis, who some education advocates criticized for supporting charter schools and his 2018 push for a state takeover of Louisville’s public school system.
Chuck Truesdell, director of government Relations for the Kentucky Department of Education, said “politics may have played a role” in the hiring and firing of commissioners in recent years.
“I think that is sort of the impetus of this bill and others like it—to bring stability to the board rather than one day all of the sudden one party takes over the board,” Truesdell said. “I think everybody involved would like to get away from that.”
The board of education and commissioner post have become part of a political battleground for education advocates in recent years.
Though former Gov. Bevin never replaced all the members of the board, once his appointees took control of the board in 2018, they ousted former Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt 18 months before his contract was up.
The moves have raised concerns that board appointments have been politicized and that they undermine the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990, which sought to insulate the board from political influence.