FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed a bill Wednesday that would shift key school governance decisions to superintendents and away from school decision-making boards.
Those provisions — a top priority for Senate Republicans — reflect clear divisions between the Democratic governor and GOP lawmakers on some high-profile education policies. The GOP-dominated legislature will have a chance to override the veto when lawmakers meet again on April 13.
The sweeping education bill would also designate a body of historical documents and speeches to incorporate into classroom work – a response to the national debate over critical race theory.
In his veto message, Beshear said the bill represents a “step backwards” for public education.
Tiered legislation would give superintendents more power to choose the program. In addition, the selection of principals would ultimately be left to superintendents.
Proponents say placing curriculum and principal hiring decisions in the hands of superintendents would strengthen public accountability for key decisions that determine school and student success. These superintendents are hired and fired by locally elected school boards.
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.
School-based decision-making councils were created by the landmark Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990. Councils include parents and teachers.
GOP lawmakers moved to insert the highly controversial provisions dealing with civics into the school governance measure. Beshear said Wednesday that these civic arrangements attempt to “dictate how teachers talk about United States history.”
Proponents say the two dozen historical records and speeches listed in the legislation would provide a solid foundation for social studies work by Kentucky middle and high school students.
Beshear said the content for the class was selected by a “political body”, not by historians or other academics. The list, he said, “also excludes the entire spectrum of diverse voices that make up our history, including Native American voices.”
Republican Senator Max Wise said the selected documents show the “good and bad” of US history. Integrating them into classroom work reinforces “American principles” that students should learn, he said during a debate.
He assured that the measure would not stifle the freedom of expression of teachers or students.
The documents listed in the measure include the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, the Monroe Doctrine and landmark decisions of the US Supreme Court. The bill also lists speeches by Abraham Lincoln, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., and Ronald Reagan.
Beshear said the inclusion of Reagan’s speech, delivered during the 1964 presidential campaign, suggests the bill “is more about politics than history.”
Critical race theory is an academic framework that examines how racism has shaped public policy and institutions such as the legal system, and how these have perpetuated white dominance in society. Several Republican-led states have banned or restricted the teaching of critical race theory or similar concepts through laws or administrative actions.
Also on Wednesday, the governor vetoed another bill banning transgender girls and women to participate in school sports that match their gender identity from sixth grade through college.
Education legislation is Senate Bill 1.