Most of the former board of education members ousted by Gov. Andy Beshear are continuing their lawsuit against the new administration, and moving the challenge to a federal court.
Beshear replaced the entire board of education on December 10, the day he was inaugurated as Kentucky’s 61st governor, fulfilling a campaign promise.
The same day, the board appointed by former Gov. Matt Bevin filed a lawsuit against Beshear, arguing that he didn’t have the authority to fire them before the completion of their appointed terms.
In a statement, former board member Gary Houchens said that Beshear’s actions violated the board members’ right to due process.
“Teachers who are removed from their positions without cause are guaranteed due process,” he said. “We were terminated from our board positions for purely political reasons and should have been afforded the same protections as our teaching peers.”
The new federal lawsuit argues that Beshear violated the constitutional separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches.
The board members argue that the governor’s power to temporarily reorganize state boards — a power repeatedly used by former Gov. Bevin and affirmed by courts — is unconstitutional.
The ranks of former board members challenging Beshear’s actions have dwindled since the original lawsuit was filed — only seven of the original ten plaintiffs are included in the challenge. One of the former plaintiffs is Hal Heiner, a close Bevin ally and former chair of the board of education.
Houchens also encouraged the legislature to pass a law clarifying the governor’s power over the state board of education.
“The state’s education system is too important to be treated like a political football every time there is a change in administration,” Houchens said. “It’s time for the General Assembly to reassert the separation of powers and establish some limits on executive branch control of the Department of Education.”
Citing financial issues, the group announced they are partnering with the Bluegrass Institute, a conservative think tank, in pursuing the lawsuit.
Bluegrass Institute president Jim Waters said he supports the lawsuit because “Beshear’s actions set a terrible precedent.”
“Kentucky law is very clear that members of the state Board of Education cannot be removed from office without cause prior to the end of their terms,” Waters said.