Newly ousted members of the Kentucky Board of Education say they will file a lawsuit against Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear over his decision to dissolve the board before their terms had expired.
Beshear signed an executive order Tuesday morning scrapping its current members and appointing new representatives to the 11-member board.
“We believe the Governor’s executive order violates Kentucky law,” a letter from 10 of the 11 removed members of the board says. “It also politicizes the governance of the Kentucky Department of Education in an unprecedented way that threatens the agency’s stability, independence, and orderly operation.”
Bart Greenwald, a Louisville attorney representing the ousted board members, said he expects to file the suit electronically Tuesday evening in Franklin Circuit Court.
Greenwald said Beshear, a Democrat, broke state law by removing board members before their terms ended without citing just cause.
More specifically, the attorney pointed to a Kentucky statute that reads: “Members of the Kentucky Board of Education and the Council on Postsecondary Education shall not be removed except for cause.” He also pointed to another statute that says “pursuant to KRS 63.080, a member shall not be removed except for cause.”
“We are trying to maintain the process,” Greenwald told The Courier Journal. “This is not a political issue. You shouldn’t be able to just change the board of education just because you want to.”
All 10 of the board members backing the suit were appointed by former Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican.
Amanda Stamper, a former spokeswoman for the Bevin administration, is the only ousted member whose name was not included in a media release about the complaint.
Gary Houchens, an associate professor at Western Kentucky University, was among those ousted from the board Tuesday. He is supporting the lawsuit, he said, because Kentucky’s education system “should not be a political football that gets punted every time there is a change in administration.”
Houchens said Beshear’s actions go against the spirit of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990, which set out to protect the state’s public schools from the whims of partisan politics.
The law established independent boards with staggered terms in order to reduce political influence.
“It is a real tragedy that Gov. Beshear is seeking to tear down that wall of protection,” Houchens said Tuesday evening.
The power to reorganize education boards has recently been contentious in Kentucky. In 2016, Bevin issued an executive order to abolish the University of Louisville Board of Trustees. Beshear, the attorney general at the time, filed a lawsuit against the Bevin administration over the matter, saying it was overstepping its authority.
A Franklin County Circuit Court judge approved a temporary action against Bevin’s actions. But in 2017, the Kentucky Supreme Court dismissed Beshear’s lawsuit after the General Assembly passed a law that overhauled the U of L board and clarified the governor’s ability to modify university boards.
And when Bevin used an executive order to dissolve and remake the state’s education professional standards board in 2018, judges decided the governor was within his right to do so.
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