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Kentucky Board of Education could get partisan elections under bill moving in Senate

A room filled with voting booths.
SB 8 would expand the Kentucky Board of Education from its current 11 voting members to 14:

A measure that would bring partisan politics to the Kentucky Board of Education has advanced in the state Senate.

Voters would elect state board of education members in partisan races under a bill that passed the Senate State and Local Government committee Wednesday.

Currently board members are chosen by the governor and must include members of both major political parties. The board directs the Kentucky Department of Education, which in turn oversees all 171 Kentucky school districts as well as the Kentucky School for the Deaf and Kentucky School for the Blind.

Bill sponsor Republican Sen. Mike Wilson told the committee he thinks Senate Bill 8 will make the Kentucky Board of Education more accountable to parents with kids in schools.

“The board and itself and KDE has sought to become more of a control organization rather than a support organization,” the Bowling Green lawmaker told the committee Wednesday.

Some Republicans have opposed the board’s support for policies that are inclusive of LGBTQ+ students, as well as the board’s statewide mask mandate during the height of the pandemic.

Wilson also claimed the measure would give more voice to rural voters. In addition to making board members into partisan politicians, SB 8 would expand the board from its current 11 voting members to 14: two from each Kentucky Supreme Court district.

Opponents argue the bill would bring more dysfunctional partisanship into public education.

“I believe that party politics have no place in the classroom,” Louisville Democratic Sen. Cassie Chambers-Armstrong said in explaining her ‘no’ vote.

“In the 90’s we made a decision to take politics out of the classroom with [the Kentucky Education Reform Act]. I think that was a good decision,” she said, referring to the 1990 landmark legislation. KERA overhauled the state’s education system, which many said was plagued with political corruption at the time.

The measure heads next to the Senate floor.

Asked to comment, Kentucky Department of Education spokesperson Joe Ragusa said the department has no additional statement. He resent a statement the department offered when the measure was filed:

“In 2021, the Kentucky General Assembly made important changes to the appointment requirements for the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) to ensure the membership more closely represents the composition of the Commonwealth in gender, race and political affiliation. The current board reflects these changes, and the positive effect of this shift is evident in the valuable and unique perspective each member brings to the KBE.

“Additionally, the Kentucky Department of Education appreciates the importance of maintaining stability within the KBE’s membership and is in discussion with legislative leaders to explore ways to further support this goal.”

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at