Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear has postponed a lawsuit against Gov. Matt Bevin over Bevin’s order to dissolve and reorganize several state education boards.
Beshear, a Democrat, warned the governor, a Republican, on June 7 that he would sue Bevin after seven days if Bevin didn’t rescind the June 2 executive order.
But Beshear decided Thursday to wait on any lawsuit after his office received word from Bevin late Wednesday that he might alter his order by Friday.
Bevin’s general counsel, Steve Pitt, said in a brief letter to Beshear, “In light of your (June 7) letter, and due to other changes the governor believes appropriate, we are considering certain modifications in an amended executive order that we anticipate filing by this Friday.”
“My hope is that the governor has reviewed the constitution and Kentucky law, and has realized he does not have ‘absolute authority’ over independent state boards,” Beshear said Thursday in an email to reporters.
“I will wait until Friday, but I stand ready to defend the constitution if the governor fails to abide by it.”
Beshear, who often is mentioned as a possible candidate against Bevin in the 2019 election for governor, already has won a case against Bevin over university funding, and two others are pending.
Bevin initially countered that his executive order on education boards is legal and in line with orders filed by previous governors, including Beshear’s father, former Gov. Steve Beshear.
Among the boards Bevin dissolved and reorganized are those that give certification to public school teachers and decide on curriculum standards. The Council for Postsecondary Education that oversees higher education issues also would be altered under the executive order.
Changes to the Kentucky Board of Education included appointment of four non-voting, non-member advisers.
Bevin also created the 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.
The order changed the appeal process for decisions made by the Education Professional Standards Board, the panel that approves and revokes teacher certification. Before the executive order, under state law, the board’s decisions were appealed to Franklin Circuit Court. Bevin required the appeal go to the Kentucky Board of Education, adding an extra step before the case reaches Franklin Circuit Court.
Beshear maintains that 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 allowed himself to appoint all new members and the chair.
“The governor does not have ‘absolute authority’ over state boards,” Beshear said last week. “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.”
Beshear said Thursday afternoon that he doesn’t know whether Bevin’s coming changes to the order will be sufficient to avoid a lawsuit.
“It was the first time we’ve got a communication (from the governor’s office), to my knowledge, that says we’ve actually read what you sent us and we are going to make some changes,” Beshear said.
He said the governor might be able to set up an advisory panel for charter schools as long as it is strictly advisory.
Asked about comments this week that state House Education Chairman John Carney, R-Campbellsville, said a significant number in the GOP-controlled state legislature think Bevin’s use of executive orders threatens their independence, Beshear said they show that his lawsuits are not about the governor or him but about the powers of the General Assembly.
Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt didn’t comment Thursday on the governor’s intention to modify the executive order.
Brigitte Blom Ramsey, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, said her group was interested in seeing Bevin’s changes. “We are anxious to see the revised order and to understand how it might impact progress toward our goals for education.”