Last Tuesday night, the majority of Kentucky teachers got their wish: Andy Beshear, the “public education candidate,” defeated incumbent governor Matt Bevin to become the next leader of the Bluegrass. (We think.)
Beshear and his educator-turned-running mate Jacqueline Coleman landed their victory thanks in no small part to public education groups like 120United and KEA, who lauded their commitment to increasing funding and resources for public schools. Beshear’s election has also been hailed a rejection of Gov. Matt Bevin’s reform policies, which made national headlines earlier this spring for springboarding a series of teacher protests across the state.
Standing poised as the heir apparent to the Governor’s Mansion, Beshear’s vision for public education in the Bluegrass will likely be wrought with contention among reform-friendly Republicans, who still make up a majority in the House and Senate. Here’s a brief look at the lay of the land for Kentucky education moving forward.
A Battle for the Board Awaits
It’s no secret that Beshear’s long-game is to oust current Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis, but since Kentucky governors don’t have the constitutional power to fire an acting commissioner, he’ll need a new-look Board of Education to get it done. That’s where things get messy.
There is legal precedent of a Kentucky governor using his authority to reorganize state boards; infamously, Matt Bevin’s reshuffling of education committees in 2017 was upheld by Kentucky’s Supreme Court. But that shoe is on the other foot now, and it’s likely that incoming Governor Beshear will attempt to use that precedent to break up the state’s school board as promised.
If and when that happens, newly-elected Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron will be waiting at the ready to tie up Beshear’s plan in court, and the battle for Kentucky’s Board of Education could become a long and ugly one. In the meantime, Lewis says he’s not worried about losing his job and has no plans to resign until he’s replaced by the Board.
Where Matt Bevin had sought an overhaul of Kentucky’s education system through initiatives like tax credits and charter schools, the Beshear administration’s approach will appear to focus more directly on the immediate needs of schools and teachers rather than attempting to create large-scale, systemic change.
During his campaign, Beshear released a K-12 education plan calling for smaller class sizes, higher teacher pay, and fewer standardized tests. He has also pledged to veto any budget that doesn’t adequately fund public education. It’s a different type of reform than Kentucky teachers have grown used to hearing about these last four years. But is it more realistic?
Beshear may find his stumbling block in the Republican majorities awaiting him in the House and Senate, where proposed spending increases in any area will be a tough sell. Given how contentiously Democrats and Republicans have fought about expanding school choice and reforming Kentucky’s public pension system, it’s unlikely that much headway will be made on those issues, either — regardless of which stance you take.
Hope for Bipartisanship
Finally, while elephants and donkeys don’t seem to jive much anymore, Beshear’s “Team Kentucky” rhetoric points to his openness to work with Republicans and find common ground. Perhaps Kentucky lawmakers can take a page from states like Tennessee, where lawmakers are working across party lines to put high-quality, knowledge-rich curriculum in the hands of teachers. Doing so would be the first step in moving the needle for Kentucky’s students, whose achievement has only continued to stagnate or worsen over the past decade.
Regardless of who resides in the Governor’s Mansion, Kentucky teachers can all agree that our students are the reason why we’re here. As the next four years present their own unique struggles and victories, here’s to keeping ourselves firmly focused on the question that matters: How are the children?
Photo via Facebook.