I have to commend Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear on two of his vetoes, disagree with him on one, and congratulate him on signing a bill.
On Thursday, Beshear, a Democrat, vetoed most Republican-dominated education legislation to come out of the 2022 session. That includes the ill-thought-out charter school bill and legislation that would displace key school governance from site-based councils to superintendents and would also designate a body of historical documents and discourses to incorporate into classroom work – an obvious response to the national debate over critical race theory.
Of course, it’s worth noting that GOP lawmakers will likely flex their supermajority muscles and override vetoes next week.
Nonetheless, here’s my take: Beshear was right to defeat the charter bill.
In short, charter schools would be a cancer for the education system in Kentucky.
“I am against charter schools,” the governor said. “They are bad for our common good. They are taking taxpayers’ money from the already underfunded state schools in the Commonwealth.
And therein lies the problem. In Kentucky, we don’t need to take more money out of public schools – we need to work hard to strengthen them.
The legislature authorized charter schools in 2017. None were created in Kentucky because lawmakers failed to provide a permanent funding mechanism.
The measure Beshear vetoed would have established a method of long-term funding for charter schools. Public charters, like traditional public schools, would have received a mix of local and state tax support.
We don’t need to privatize public education. I have no problem with private schools offering education choices. But our tax money shouldn’t follow students to charter or private schools – tax money should go to public schools, where we can pay teachers what they deserve to give the vast majority of Kentucky children the best education possible.
The educational program which transfers decision-making to superintendents and sets up a basic historical curriculum, including several key speeches, was also opposed.
Critics of the bill worry that consolidating more authority with superintendents will weaken the influence of teachers and parents in school decision-making.
The governor said in his veto message that the bill “reduces, if not eliminates, parental involvement and input” when decisions are made about curriculum development and principal hiring.
The governor also felt that lawmakers had overstepped the mark when they tried to “dictate how teachers talk about United States history.”
I’m not as passionate about eliminating this bill as I am about the charter school fiasco, but I think Beshear is right here as well.
Educators should create programs for local schools, not legislators.
Andy got it wrong, however, when he vetoed the “Women’s Sports Equity Act,” which would prevent transgender girls and women from playing on women’s sports teams in middle school and high school.
My support for this bill does not mean that I don’t care about transgender children. I do. But I also care about fair competition in women’s and women’s sports. Science tells us that a transgender woman will have a huge physical advantage over a biological woman, especially after puberty.
I would certainly prefer to see a solution where transgender women can participate in sports without destroying the competitive nature of athletic endeavor for biological women. But when topics like these become political balloons, that’s what happens. There is a winner, a loser and no hope for compromise or thinking outside the box.
I must also commend Beshear for signing into law a bill sponsored by Somerset Rep. Shane Baker that makes places of worship “essential” in the event of an emergency – such as the COVID-19 outbreak.
In doing so, Beshear righted a wrong he inflicted on the Commonwealth at the start of the pandemic, when he deemed churches ‘non-essential’ and ordered them to close – while making establishments as dodgy as grocery stores “essential” alcohols.
Beshear could have vetoed the bill out of spite, as his predecessor would have done, or let the bill sit on his desk and simply pass into law without signing it. But he didn’t — and I congratulate him on that. Did he do it in the name of political survival? May be. But he didn’t double down and defend his actions. It was honourable, in my opinion.
So it was a mixed bag for Beshear – but the General Assembly will have the final say.
JEFF NEAL is the editor of the Commonwealth Journal. Contact him at [email protected]