Legislator wants education commissioner to be confirmed by state Senate or elected by public

Kentucky's education commissioner is appointed by the state board of education, but a state lawmaker wants to change that.

State Rep. Kenny Imes, R-Murray, has prefiled a bill for the 2016 General Assembly that would require the commissioner to be confirmed by the state Senate. For another option, he said, he's also drafting a bill that would require the education commissioner to be elected by a statewide public vote.

"I'm just trying to get the public at large more of a voice," Imes said. Lawmakers confirm Cabinet secretaries and other commissioners.

In response to the prefiled bill, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said, "I don't have a problem with both the House and Senate confirming this appointment."

Stumbo said requiring a statewide election for the position would take a constitutional amendment. Imes said he was willing to change his proposed bill to require confirmation in the House as well as the Senate.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said Monday that he didn't have a comment on Imes' bill.

State Rep. Derrick Graham, chairman of the House Education Committee, said he hadn't seen the bill, but he would rather keep the process the way it is, with the state board making the appointment.

"The board of education is appointed by the governor" and the board has done a reputable job of choosing the commissioner, he said.

The elected position of state superintendent of public instruction was abolished in the early 1990s. Lawmakers said then the power shift to the appointed education commissioner was needed to reduce politics in the state education department.

Graham, D-Frankfort, said Monday that having an elected official run the department didn't work. Rather than having "policy that is beneficial to all students," he said, "it politicizes education."

State education board chairman Roger Marcum said that over the past 25 years, having the state board appoint a commissioner "has worked well for our public education system, K through 12, ... so I don't necessarily see the need to change."