Education Kentucky Politics

State senators voted Monday to strip the Kentucky Board of Education of its new non-voting student and teacher members.

Gov. Andy Beshear added the teacher position when he reorganized the board upon taking office in December 2019, appointing Rowan County special education teacher Allison Slone. He later added the student member: Jefferson County Public Schools student Solyana Mesfin, a junior at Eastern High School. Mesfin and Slone serve in an ex-officio, or non-voting advisory capacity, along with Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman and Council on Postsecondary Education president Aaron Thompson.

Solyana Mesfin (left) is the student member of the Ky. Board of Education. Allison Slone (right) is the teacher member. Both serve in an advisory non-voting capacity.Ky. Dept. of Education

Solyana Mesfin (left) is the student member of the Ky. Board of Education. Allison Slone (right) is the teacher member. Both serve in an advisory non-voting capacity.

The bill passed by the Senate Monday would reorganize the board again requiring members of both major political parties. It would also require equal representation of men and women and “racial minority” representation based on the “total racial minority population” of the state.

Finally, the bill would take away the governor’s power to reorganize the board.

The provision removing the student and teacher members was added to the original House bill in a Senate committee. When it came to the floor Monday, several Democratic senators objected to the change, especially to removing the student.

“They’re the ones who are receiving this education and they should have some input in what they’re learning, how they’re learning, how it could be done better,” Lexington Democrat Reginald Thomas said. Thomas offered an amendment adding back the student and teacher members, but it failed.

Warren County Republican Mike Wilson said high schoolers aren’t ready to serve on the state board, based on his experience with his own children when they were in high school.

“They were in the process of developing their own thought processes…I would say those were not completely formed until after they had been in college for some period of time,” Wilson said on the floor. 

He said he worried students “could be utilized and influenced by teachers who want a certain thing.”

In an email to WFPL News, Mesfin bristled at this characterization.

“The student position on the board was established due to the dedication and intelligence of our students, therefore the claims made on students’ capability of taking on this role are inaccurate,” she wrote.

“This seat on the Kentucky Board of Education gives students an opportunity to use their voice and help deliberate the issues that affect them directly….The best way to ensure student success is to provide our Kentucky students a seat and a voice at the table where decisions are being made,” she said in the email.

Slone, the teacher representative, is also against the change, as is Kentucky Commissioner of Education Jason Glass.

The measure passed 29-7, and goes back to the House for approval of the changes.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.