Bevin oversteps again

Attorney General Andy Beshear speaks to reporters Wednesday about his objections to Gov. Matt Bevin’s unilateral rewrite of laws governing a number of education boards.
Attorney General Andy Beshear speaks to reporters Wednesday about his objections to Gov. Matt Bevin’s unilateral rewrite of laws governing a number of education boards. Associated Press

A discussion of how to ensure that young Kentuckians learn to read before they leave third grade was overshadowed Wednesday by political fallout from Gov. Matt Bevin’s latest power grab.

By unilaterally rewriting laws that govern the making of education policy, Bevin also picked another fight with Attorney General Andy Beshear.

A poll a few years ago found that two-thirds of Americans can’t name all three branches of government. We’re wondering if Bevin is one of them because he keeps exerting executive power in ways that encroach on the legislature’s authority and force the judicial branch to reel him in.

Granted, the Republican-controlled legislature will no doubt rubber stamp the Republican governor’s latest edicts at its first opportunity. Senate President Robert Stivers has already blessed the changes.

But when Bevin oversteps his authority, it usually distracts from more substantive matters, such as how to better teach kids to read. That was the case at Wednesday’s state school board meeting, which was made weird by Bevin’s appointment of four non-voting members to the board.

As best we can sort it out, the executive order that was released Friday by Education and Workforce Development Secretary Hal Heiner affects to varying degrees eight education boards, committees or councils. The order gives Bevin the opportunity to replace dozens of appointees, including some with unexpired terms.

The obvious aim — to give Bevin and Heiner more control— is spurring misgivings about their motives and intent.

For example, Senate Bill 1 enacted by the legislature and signed by Bevin just two months ago, created a committee to review the process for setting academic standards and assessments.

The law gives the governor, Senate president and House speaker three appointments each. It won’t take effect until next month, but Bevin’s order altered the committee and gives him three more appointments, plus the power to name the first chair and vice chair. This committee will have the power to reject educators’ recommendations, raising concerns that Bevin is out to politicize the process for setting education standards.

Bevin’s order may also put Kentucky out of compliance with a federal law that the majority of members on an advisory panel on exceptional children have disabilities or be parents of children who have disabilities.

Heiner and Bevin understandably want to to speed up the pace of change but may end up undermining themselves. Rather than embroiling the administration in yet another legal fight, they could be more effective by using their bully pulpits to push their agenda. Bevin is already in court defending his reorganizations of the University of Louisville and state pension boards.

And, contrary to what Bevin’s people assert, abolishing independent boards and rewriting laws are different than when governors exercise their longstanding prerogative to reorganize executive branch functions.

It’s probably futile to suggest, but Bevin should heed Democrat Beshear’s advice and his seven-day deadline to withdraw the executive order.

Then, freed from political distractions, everyone could get busy figuring out why half of our third-graders are reading below grade level and how to help them and their schools improve.