Republican candidates for governor talk education as May 16 primary nears Skip to content

Republican candidates for governor talk education as May 16 primary nears

Craft vows to fire education commissioner. Cameron wants state school board that reflects Kentucky ‘values.’ Quarles pledges support for teachers.

5 min read
Kelly Craft, left, speaks to reporters with Congressman James Comer, right, in Elizabethtown. (Kentucky Lantern photo by McKenna Horsley)

Kelly Craft, a Republican running to be Kentucky’s next governor, has a message for state Education Commissioner Jason Glass: Resign on Election Day or she will fire him on her first day in office.

Campaigning with U.S. Rep. James Comer, the former United Nations Ambassador told a crowd of dozens at Impellizzeri’s Pizza in Elizabethtown that Glass was a “woke commissioner” who “silenced” some Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) employees.

“So on election evening, if he does the right thing, Commissioner Glass will resign,” Craft said. “But if he doesn’t, that’s okay. Inauguration Day, I’m going to do the right thing and fire him.”

Craft made a similar comment during a Monday campaign stop in Bowling Green, according to the Bowling Green Daily News. She’s previously said, and emphasized again Wednesday, she wants to “dismantle” the Kentucky Department of Education and start over.

Toni Konz Tatman, a spokesperson for KDE, wrote in an email to the Kentucky Lantern that Kentucky governors do not have the power to fire education commissioners. That authority lies with the Kentucky Board of Education.

Education Commissioner Jason Glass issued a statement saying, “Someone needs to tell Kelly Craft that the governor in Kentucky does not have the authority to ‘dismantle’ the Department of Education.”

Wednesday morning, the Craft campaign released a new television ad called, “Woke.” Actors in the ad portray “woke bureaucrats” leading students in learning CRT, an acronym for Critical Race Theory, and identifying their pronouns, a reference to gender identity.

In a press release, her campaign said the ad is “backed by a six-figure statewide television buy.”

When asked about examples of woke ideologies in Kentucky schools, Craft said she could not imagine her granddaughters, one of whom is a student athlete, being in a school restroom or locker room “and then a junior high male or a high school male walks into the girls bathroom.”

Craft also referenced an ongoing debate about trans women athletes competing in women’s sports. On Monday, former University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines joined Craft at campaign stops in Newport, Louisville and Bowling Green. Gaines is an opponent of trans women athletes competing in women’s sports.

“I’m not anti-trans. I am for women,” Craft said. “I am for women having a level playing field. I’m for the safety and I want to make certain that transgender who want to have … a category for their athleticism to be able to compete with one another — that’s not a problem. But what I’m standing for is to make certain that we protect our females and we protect our young girls.”

Education commissioner’s response

Glass, who has a four-year contract with the Kentucky Board of Education, was criticized by Republican members of the General Assembly during the most recent legislative session. Among them were Craft’s running mate, Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville.

“Someone needs to tell Kelly Craft that the governor in Kentucky does not have the authority to ‘dismantle’ the Department of Education,” Glass said in a statement on Wednesday. “We are focused on improving the learning experiences of all our students in a way that supports their ability to compete in an automated, fast-moving, global economy. The question Kentuckians should consider is what effect attention-seeking politicians will have on our educator workforce crisis and other real challenges facing our community’s public schools.”

The General Assembly recently passed a law subjecting the state education commissioner to Senate confirmation. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who is seeking reelection, had vetoed it. State Board of Education members are confirmed by the Senate.

Ryan Quarles releases education plan

Ryan Quarles spoke to reporters outside the Capitol on Feb. 28. (Kentucky Lantern photo by McKenna Horsley)

Another Republican candidate, Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, released his education plan Wednesday. Quarles’ statement, posted on his campaign web site, does not include the word, “woke,” but he did say Kentucky’s governor should be someone who “respects and prioritizes parental rights and discretion” in what their children learn at school.

“Teacher retainment and recruitment are top-tier priorities to keep our school systems thriving. It’s no secret that a teacher shortage exists in Kentucky, but retainment of current teachers could be argued as being just as big of an issue as teacher recruitment,” Quarles wrote. “I’ve met many teachers on the campaign trail who simply want a great place to work, to be valued, and to have the ability to teach the next generation without burdensome administrative paperwork.”

He said his administration would work with the General Assembly and school districts to “review & enhance pay scales, reduce administrative burdens, and create a culture that focuses on teaching instead of red tape.” Quarles also called for promoting vocational and trade education and affordability in pursuing higher education.

Cameron says he’ll appoint state board that reflects Kentucky values

Attorney General Daniel Cameron, also a GOP candidate for governor, spoke about Glass during a Wednesday evening campaign stop in Jeffersontown. In response to a question, the attorney general said “we need a new education commissioner,” but noted the position is appointed by the state Board of Education.

“I will make sure that we have members of the board that reflect the values not only of myself but the majority of Kentuckians,” Cameron stated. “We can’t have a commissioner of education that tells a teacher that they need to find another job if they expressed some concern about the gender ideology curriculum.”

Cameron was referring to a legislative committee meeting earlier this year where Glass said school district employees were expected to “execute policies set forth by the district that were in alignment with best practice, and often in alignment with federal and state law.” Tatman also since refuted this, previously saying Glass testified “if a teacher could not follow a district’s guidelines, they should find employment elsewhere. This is the same advice that applies to any employee in any industry.”

Cameron released last month his plan for Kentucky education, which included keeping “the far-left from indoctrinating our students.”

Among the points, he said he would stop KDE from “promoting any curriculum or policy that encourages the teaching of woke ideologies in our K-12 public-education system,” support raising teacher pay, reduce bureaucracy for educators and appoint state board members who do not “favor bureaucracy and woke virtue-signaling over the success of our kids.”

When Craft initially spoke about dismantling KDE, Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, another Republican primary candidate, criticized her remarks in a statement and called for “holistic solutions” to challenges students face.

“Our public education system is one of the institutions that make America so special. And in America, we don’t run from our problems. We tackle them head-on,” Keck said.

Twelve Republicans will be on primary ballots in the Kentucky governor race. The primary is 34 days from Wednesday.


Written by McKenna Horsley. Cross-posted from the Kentucky Lantern.

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Kentucky Lantern

The Kentucky Lantern is an independent, nonpartisan, free news service. We’re based in Frankfort a short walk from the Capitol, but all of Kentucky is our beat.



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