Confirmation looming, GOP senators voice support for presumed KY education commissioner

Kentucky Senate Education Committee members, many of them Republicans, showed support Friday for the commissioner of education nominee as he prepares for the first Senate confirmation for that post.

Several lawmakers said they had received many positive endorsements of Lawrence County Superintendent Robbie Fletcher, and he would have their vote on the Senate floor when a resolution supporting his confirmation is called.

That is expected to happen by Monday, the last day of the 2024 General Assembly.

“I think this was an excellent process. This gives you a starting point,” Fletcher said after the hearing. “The Senate knows what to expect from me, and I know what to expect from the Senate.

“I think when you have those open conversations, it can only be very positive. So this first step is great, and hopefully the confirmation goes well later on, too.”

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Despite the accolades, Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, who sponsored the 2023 measure that now requires Senate confirmation of Kentucky’s education commissioner, told Fletcher, “you are not under the Governor’s authority.”

Wilson said it is the legislature that has the responsibility under the Constitution to provide for common schools.

“We make the policy, and you have to implement our policy,” Wilson said.

On matters of education, Kentucky’s Republican-led General Assembly has had a contentious relationship with both Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, and former Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass.

Glass resigned last year after Republican lawmakers criticized the Department of Education’s inclusive LGBTQ stances and called for his ouster.

He said a “dangerous” law — Senate Bill 150 from 2023 — that critics called anti-LGBTQ, led to his departure.

When asked by a reporter after the hearing about his stance on the law, Fletcher promised to “love all kids.”

“I’m going to love all children. No matter what their background, no matter what the decisions they make, my goal will be to love all children,” he said. “When they come into my building, I want them to be safe, I want them to be loved, and I want them to be well-educated. So at the end of the day, my goal will be to love all children.”

Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, asked Fletcher not to air his grievances with lawmakers publicly before he takes his concerns to them directly.

“In turn, we’re going to do the same thing with you. I think that’s the best way we can approach this because we’re all in this together,” Givens said. “We want all these students to succeed. We want these teachers to have a safe workplace. We want our communities to thrive around these public schools. So recognize us as colleagues in this endeavor.”

Senate Education Committee Chairman Stephen West, R-Paris, told Fletcher he looked forward to working with him. And, Sen. Reggie Thomas, D-Lexington, told Fletcher he had been hoping that the Kentucky Board of Education would hire him.

Fletcher told lawmakers he would be transformational and a “servant leader.” He said he would be a good listener.

Fletcher said the investment the General Assembly had made in education in 2024 was appreciated, though he would probably come back and ask for more money.

The committee did not vote on Fletcher’s confirmation Friday.

Angela Billings, spokesperson for Senate Majority Leadership, has said the resolution will have to go to the Senate floor for confirmation, which was likely to occur Monday.

Fletcher on school choice

Kentucky voters this November will decide if they’d like to amend the constitution to give lawmakers the option to allow public dollars to go to private and charter schools. The amendment, passed in the form of House Bill 2, proved to be one of the most contentious issues of the 2024 session.

Fletcher told reporters he does not see it as his role to get involved in the forthcoming campaigning on the issue.

Fletcher said he supports school choice in that “people should have the opportunity to go to the school they want to attend.

“Now, I am not for taking public funds and putting them into a private school. Okay, I’m not, and I’ve talked to Senate members about that,” he said. “But now, if it passes in legislation ... then we’re going to have to, as public servants, honor that.”

Fletcher said he’d be voting against the amendment.

“But if it comes to me and other people voted for it, then that’s going to be my responsibility to make sure it happens in the best way,” he said.

“I do believe children should have the option to go wherever they want,” he said. “We do that in my own district. So even though you might live in the Fallsburg area, you can go to Blaine, you can go to Louisa. We don’t change our bus routes, but if you can get to a bus and take you to the point, we’ll do that for our kids. I think that’s fair.

“Now as far as taking any ... funding from public schools, I don’t agree with that.”