Education takes top billing in governor’s race; interest in board seats high
Kentucky School Advocate
By Brenna R. Kelly
This year’s general election is rapidly approaching, and with it the chance to decide who will lead the state for the next four years. Though 2019 is an off year for school board races, voters in more than 25 districts will vote for a school board member at the same time they cast a ballot for governor and other state offices.
In the gubernatorial race, Gov. Matt Bevin is seeking a second term, while Attorney General Andy Beshear is trying to unseat him. Representatives from both tickets spoke at KSBA’s Summer Leadership Conference and since then both have continued to court educators for their vote.
Beshear and his running mate, Jacqueline Coleman, a former teacher and assistant principal, have cast themselves as champions of public education. In addition to vowing to end what they call the “war on public education,” the ticket’s education platform, called “Stop the Bullying, Raise the Pay,” calls for a $2,000 raise for teachers, student loan forgiveness, professional development and a new education commissioner and state board of education.
Bevin and his running mate, state Sen. Ralph Alvarado, have pushed back against the challengers, saying in a three-minute video that the perception that Bevin doesn’t care about Kentucky teachers “is just horse manure.”
The video goes on to say that Bevin was the first governor to fully fund the pension system, first to use all lottery proceeds for education and that under Bevin the SEEK education funding formula is at the highest dollar amount ever.
Though public education is usually talked about in a governor’s race, this year is different, said Al Cross, longtime political journalist and director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky.
“It’s always been a given in a Kentucky governor’s race that both the nominees were strong supporters of public education and Beshear is arguing, with some evidence, that Bevin is not,” Cross said. “And Bevin clearly realizes this as a danger to him.”
But Bevin’s recent overtures to educators are likely too little too late for education advocates, Cross said.
“He’s not going to get the votes of most people who have education as the top priority,” he said. “But what he’s appealing to are people who value public education and may question his commitment to it, but don’t necessarily make it their top issue.”
And will those who support education turn out en masse to vote for Beshear? In the 2018 legislative races, teachers and other education supporters vowed to “Remember in November” but the rallying cry fell somewhat flat and Republicans maintained their super majority in the House and widened their majority in the Senate.
“But Bevin wasn’t on the ballot,” Cross said. “There are people already handing out Beshear literature door to door in Paducah and I’ll bet those are teachers.”
The race will be a political test of whether education advocates and teachers in particular can take down a sitting governor, he said.
“If he is defeated, the teachers will probably be able to take most of the credit,” Cross said.
Governor not the only race
While the governor’s race is getting the most attention, there are at least 28 school board seats being decided this November for terms now filled by an appointed board member. The elections for unexpired terms include seats in the state’s five largest districts – one seat in Jefferson, Fayette, Boone and Hardin counties and two seats in Warren County.
In several cases, board members who were appointed within the past three months under a new state law allowing boards to fill their own vacancies must run to keep their appointed seat.
In Jefferson County, newly appointed board member Joe Marshall will face seven challengers in the race.
In Bullitt County, Shannon Cumming was appointed on Sept. 12. She and three others, including former state Rep. Linda Belcher, have filed for election.
In Hardin County, board member John Emary was appointed on Aug. 29, which was after the election filing deadline. However, no one filed for the seat, according to the Hardin County Clerk’s office.
Board members who were appointed after the filing deadline but did not file for election have until Oct. 25 to file as a write-in candidate. If no one is elected, a new vacancy will be declared and it will be filled again by an appointment.
Unexpired terms in several other districts also gained attention. Four people are vying for the seat on the Cloverport Ind. board, including Misty Woods who was appointed in April. In Marion County, three people are running for the unexpired term, including William Cox who was also appointed to the seat in April.
Voters in Warren County will be electing people to fill two unexpired terms, though neither of the incumbents are opposed.
“It is wonderful to see such a high level of interest in school board service across the state,” said Eric Kennedy, KSBA director of advocacy. “Our local common schools belong to the people of the community, and decisions affecting the management and control of those schools are strongest when the community is highly engaged, not only in the board’s deliberations, but in the elections of board members.”
Nickel or not?
The fate of at least two nickel taxes passed by school boards will be decided in the general election. Voters in Graves and Christian counties will get to vote on whether to recall nickel taxes passed by their boards.
In preparation for the vote, Christian County launched a website, vote-for-our-schools.com (pictured). The website includes a list of supporters, including businesses and individuals, explanations of state cuts to education funding, photos of the condition of schools, and sign ups for yard signs, canvassing and promoting the tax on social media.
The Graves County vote comes after the board sued the petition committee claiming that the petition was invalid. A judge, however, ruled in February that the petition was valid.