FRANKFORT — Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear said at a news conference Wednesday that he is demanding Gov. Matt Bevin rescind a June 2 executive order dissolving and reorganizing numerous state education boards.
Failure to do so in seven days, Beshear said, would result in a lawsuit challenging the move by the governor, which Beshear said was “unlawful and illegal.”
Beshear said Bevin’s order mirrors executive orders the Republican governor signed last year that reorganized the boards of the University of Louisville and the Kentucky Retirement Systems, which Beshear challenged in court. Beshear, a Democrat, also won a lawsuit that challenged the legality of mid-year budget cuts that Bevin ordered for colleges and universities.
Last week Bevin signed an executive order realigning key education boards, councils and committees. Among the boards dissolved and reorganized are those that give certification to public school teachers and decide on curriculum standards. The Council for Postsecondary Education would also be altered under the executive order.
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Changes to the Kentucky Board of Education include Bevin appointing four non-voting, non-member advisers in an effort to enhance education decision making on all levels.
Those four are parent Tracey Cusik; Kathy Gornik, chairman of a non-profit educational organization; Education and Workforce Development official Wayne Lewis, and Joe Papalia, an entrepreneur.
Bevin also created Kentucky Charter Schools Advisory Council to help the Kentucky Board of Education implement the state’s new law allowing public charter schools for the first time.
Beshear maintains that in the June 2 executive order, Bevin dissolved four statutorily created boards, removing more than 35 members before the end of their mandatory term. Beshear said Bevin then created four new boards with the same names and duties but allowing himself to appoint all new members and the chair.
“The governor does not have ‘absolute authority’ over state boards,” Beshear said. “He cannot ignore laws passed by the General Assembly that create independent boards, lay out their structure and set mandatory terms for their members. Put simply, he cannot rewrite laws he does not like through executive orders. That is exactly what he is doing.”
“I’m especially troubled that the governor has hit Kentucky’s education system with yet another executive overreach,” Beshear said.
In reponse, Bevin press secretary Woody Maglinger said in a statement that Bevin’s use of state law to reorganize the Board of Education and other education-related boards is legal and proper, and in line with the actions of prior governors. Maglinger said the statute has been used by Democratic and Republican governors to reorganize executive branch agencies 357 times since 1992, including 103 times by Gov. Steve Beshear.
“Attorney General Andy Beshear must think the law applies differently to Republicans and Democrats. He is wrong,” Maglinger said. “As an example of just two of these similar executive acts, does AG Beshear believe his father acted illegally by completely abolishing and recreating the Horse Racing Commission (Executive Order 2008-668) by executive order? What about Steve Beshear’s abolition and recreation of the State Fair Board (Executive Order 2014-834)? Or is AG Beshear just a hypocrite?”
Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt did not comment on the situation Wednesday.
One effect of Bevin’s order was already evident at Wednesday’s state school board meeting. One day after Bevin appointed them as advisers, Cusik, Gornik and Lewis were all at the board meeting. Lewis and Gornik asked questions about issues before the board. Lewis questioned why a school district was ranked high in the state accountability system, but had some lower measures of academic achievement.
Meanwhile, Bevin on Wednesday named nine members to the Charter School Advisory Council, which he created through the executive order. State education officials identified the nine as:
▪ Brandon Kyle Wilson, Cunningham, representing parents.
▪ Holly Iaccarino, Versailles, representing attorneys.
▪ Wayne Lewis, Versailles, representing members with education policy expertise.
▪ Martha Fitts Clark, Owensboro, representing members with business or finance background.
▪ Aaron Thompson Jr., Richmond, representing members with education policy expertise.
▪ Milton Seymore, Louisville, representing the Kentucky Board of Education.
▪ Ben Lovell Cundiff, Cadiz, representing the Kentucky Board of Education.
▪ Gary Wayne Houchens, Bowling Green, representing the Kentucky Board of Education.
▪ Valerie O'Rear, Fisherville, representing the School, Curriculum, Assessment, and Accountability Council.
Lewis will serve as chair and Iaccarino as vice-chair
Last year, Beshear challenged the governor’s withholding of $18 million from Kentucky’s public colleges and universities. The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in September 2016 that the money was unlawfully withheld, and stated in its decision that the job of the attorney general is “to vindicate the public rights of the people of the commonwealth.”