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Ronald Vissing: Let’s get politics out of our school system — taxpayers and students deserve better

After all the teeth gnashing and howling at the moon due to Gov. Matt Bevin legally replacing several Kentucky Board of Education members over a two-year period and accusations of politicizing the board’s educational oversight authority, it took newly elected Gov. Andy Beshear exactly 13 hours and 23 minutes to accomplish the same thing.

Amazingly, Gov. Bevin took the legal route and replaced board members as terms expired over time as the law allows and was crucified for it.

Incoming Gov. Andy Beshear summarily fires the entire Kentucky Board of Education without cause and he’s praised for his bold action.

A recent editorial in another Kentucky news publication portrayed the Kentucky Board of Education as having a singular focus on establishing charter schools. Nothing could be further from the truth, yet this false narrative continues to be perpetuated. It was disheartening to see a group of dedicated individuals who volunteered their time and service disparaged as a “clown car.”

During their tenure, the KBE changed graduation requirements to give students the chance to take more classes geared toward their plans after graduation to improve transition readiness and a greater chance at success.

They also implemented a new accountability system with an intentional focus on improving low-performing students and closing the achievement gap between student groups. In addition, they worked at adding academic and financial transparency which is likely what frightened the KEA. These are just a few of the accomplishments in the past year alone.

It’s insulting to characterize these devoted individuals as a “clown car.”

Of the numerous boards and commissions under the Executive Branch, the Board of Education is one that should never be politicized. The board exists to develop and adopt policies in consultation with the Local Superintendent Advisory Council who advise the chief state school officer and the Kentucky Board of Education concerning the development of administrative regulations and education policy independent of politics.

It’s important from a continuity perspective to avoid careening the public-school system oversight board from guardrail to guardrail every four years in exchange for political favor. The staggered terms of the Kentucky Board of Education ensured that they overlap the term of the governor’s office and insulate them from the radical whims of whomever is elected which is exactly why former Gov. Bevin had to wait 2 years before making his final changes to the Board of Education. That insulation has now been removed.

In his Executive Order, Gov. Beshear states that the actions of the KBE served to undermine public confidence in the KBE and in the Commonwealth’s commitment to public education but he fails to articulate any of those claims. This drastic and unwarranted move by Gov. Beshear only amplifies the politicization and accelerates the transition from “it’s about the kids” to “it’s about the votes and placating the KEA.” This unprecedented and premature action also opens the door to potential chaos.

As noted in his denial of a temporary injunction, Judge Thomas Wingate stated that the governor has the authority to make temporary reorganization changes while the legislature is out of session, but they are subject to enactment by the General Assembly during the next session.

If not enacted by the General Assembly, the temporary plan will end and the prior structure of the organization will be reinstated.

By failing to wait just a few weeks until the General Assembly is in session, Gov. Beshear rushed to make good on his quid pro quo with the KEA and most definitely injected a new level of politics into this issue. One can only imagine the chaos that will ensue should the prior board be reinstated.

It’s time to stop using Kentucky’s public education system as a vehicle for political gain. The taxpayers and students deserve better.

Ronald J. Vissing is a Lexington business owner and political activist.

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