FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed a bill Wednesday that would shift key school governance decisions to superintendents and away from school-based decision-making councils.
Those provisions — a top priority for Senate Republicans — reflect the clear divisions between the Democratic governor and GOP lawmakers over some high-profile education policies. The GOP-dominated legislature will have a chance to override the veto when lawmakers reconvene April 13.
The sweeping education bill also would designate a set of historical documents and speeches to incorporate into classroom work — a response to the national debate over critical race theory.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 backward” for public education.
The multilayered legislation would give superintendents more authority to choose curriculum. Also, the selection of school principals would ultimately be put in the hands of superintendents.
Supporters say that assigning curriculum and principal hiring decisions to superintendents would strengthen public accountability for key decisions that determine school and student success. Those superintendents are hired and fired by locally elected school boards.
The bill’s critics worry that consolidating more authority with superintendents would weaken the influence of teachers and parents in school decision making.
The governor said in his veto message that the bill “lessens, if not eliminates, the participation and input of parents” when decisions are being made on shaping curriculum and hiring principals.
School-based decision-making councils were created by the landmark Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990. The councils include parent and teacher members.
GOP lawmakers decided to insert the hotly debated provisions dealing with civics instruction into the school governance measure. Beshear said Wednesday that those civics provisions attempt to “dictate how teachers talk about U.S. history.”
Supporters say the two dozen historical documents and speeches listed in the legislation would offer a strong foundation for social studies work by Kentucky’s middle and high school students.
Beshear said the classroom content was selected by a “political body,” not by historians or other scholars. The list, he said, also “excludes the full spectrum of diverse voices that make up our history, including Native American voices.”
Republican Sen. Max Wise has said the selected documents show the “good and bad” of U.S. history. Incorporating them into classroom work reinforces “the American principles” students should be learning, he said during a debate.
He offered assurances that the measure wouldn’t stifle the free speech of teachers or students.
Documents listed in the measure include the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Monroe Doctrine and landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions. The bill also lists speeches by Abraham Lincoln, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Ronald Reagan.
Beshear said the inclusion of Reagan’s speech, delivered during the 1964 presidential campaign, suggests that the bill is “aimed more at politics than at 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 those have perpetuated the dominance of white people in society. Several Republican-led states have banned or limited the teaching of critical race theory or similar concepts through laws or administrative actions.
Also on Wednesday, the governor vetoed another bill that would bar transgender girls and women from participating in school sports matching their gender identity from sixth grade through college.
The education legislation is Senate Bill 1.