State Rep. Carl Rollins, a Democrat from Midway who chaired the House Education Committee for five years, resigned his seat Tuesday and accepted a job as chief executive of Kentucky's higher education loan agencies.
In a letter to Gov. Steve Beshear dated Tuesday, Rollins said he had enjoyed his time as a lawmaker but that "it is now time for me to accept more responsibility in my professional life."
The governing board of the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority and the Kentucky Higher Education Student Loan Corp. met at 11 a.m. Friday to hire Rollins as the chief executive of both groups. Rollins was already employed at the Student Loan Corp. as a senior marketing manager.
He replaces Edward Cunningham, who resigned abruptly from the post in April 2012. Rollins will start immediately at a salary of $170,000 a year.
In a statement Wednesday, Beshear said he would call a special election on June 25th to fill Rollins' 56th District seat, which includes all of Woodford County and parts of Fayette and Franklin counties.
"I thank Rep. Rollins for his service as a state representative, and I applaud his years of work on education issues, particularly on the graduation bill that will keep our kids in school," Beshear said. "Carl has been a champion for Kentucky children, and a respected colleague in our legislature."
Rollins said his new job appealed to him because he met all the requirements, including a doctorate in educational policy.
"And because I had been chair of the Education Committee, and involved in establishing policy, they felt like it was a good fit," he said. "I want to work with the legislature and administration to get more people to go to college and to make more affordable options for people."
Although Rollins is leaving the legislature to join an executive branch agency, he won't benefit from a provision approved in 2005 that allows lawmakers who take state jobs to dramatically increase their pension payments. Rollins said he never joined the legislative retirement system, but he has always been a member of the retirement system for state workers.
KHEAA oversees the state's scholarship programs, spending nearly $200 million a year provided by the Kentucky Lottery on need-based and merit-based scholarships, including the popular Kentucky Education Excellence Scholarship, known as KEES. In 2010, the state's largest need-based aid program spent $60 million to help poor students, but it turned away more than 90,000 eligible applicants.
The Student Loan Corp. services and collects student loans.
The two agencies have an annual operating budget of $34 million, financed by fees charged for servicing and collecting loans and other financial products. The same eight-member board oversees both organizations, and members are appointed by the governor.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he would accept letters from House members interested in taking the helm of the House Education Committee.
"Carl has been a great colleague whose leadership has been instrumental in moving Kentucky's educational system forward," Stumbo said in a statement. "He leaves behind a long list of accomplishments that have made a true difference in the lives of our students, and I wish him well as he takes on this new endeavor."
Rollins has represented a district traditionally seen as safe for Democrats, but Republicans — who have chipped away at the Democratic majority in the House in the past two election cycles — said they will field a strong challenger in the June 25 special election.
With Rollins, there are 55 Democrats and 45 Republicans in the House, which is the sole Democrat-controlled legislative chamber in the South.
Steve Robertson, chairman of the Republican Party of Kentucky, said that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney won the 56th District seat in 2012.
"This district is going to be interested in someone who can articulate where Kentucky needs to go and that Kentucky needs to live within its means," Robertson said.
Dan Logsdon, chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party, said Democrats will meet sometime in the next week to nominate a candidate.
"I am confident that we will have a strong candidate and I am confident that we will keep that seat," Logsdon said.
Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Sannie Overly said James Kay II, an aide to House leaders, has said he is interested in the position. Kay, who is chairman of the Woodford Democratic Party executive committee, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford.