Fletcher tells lawmakers he wants to serve all Kentucky kids, avoid politics as ed commissioner

Republished from Kentucky Lantern


FRANKFORT — Robbie Fletcher, awaiting confirmation as Kentucky’s next education commissioner, told a Senate committee Friday that schools should be dedicated to serving all children and that he values strong teams and relationships. 

Fletcher told the Senate Education Committee about his experience as an educator in his native Eastern Kentucky and his commitment to his wife, a physician, and their three children.

He signaled a desire to work with lawmakers without becoming embroiled in political conflicts. “My role is to the kids first, and to listen to everyone that has input,” Fletcher said. 

Friday’s committee meeting was for information only, but the Senate resolution to confirm Fletcher will likely appear on the floor during the final two days of the current legislative session. Senators on the committee were cordial toward Fletcher, who has been meeting with lawmakers ahead of his appearance. A few congratulated him on his selection. 

“We need a Kentuckian, and it’s at the perfect time for this,” said Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville.

The Kentucky Board of Education named Fletcher as its choice for the next state education commissioner last month. Fletcher is the first candidate who must seek Senate confirmation because of a law passed by the General Assembly last year.

If approved by the Senate, Fletcher will be appointed as the state’s top education official through 2028. He will receive an annual salary of $265,000. 

Fletcher has been the superintendent of Lawrence County Schools since 2014. Before that, he was a part-time faculty member at Asbury University and a principal, assistant principal and mathematics teacher in Martin County. 

Fletcher’s also Kentucky-educated. He holds a doctorate in education, a superintendency certification and a bachelor’s in mathematics from Morehead State University and a master’s in supervision and administration from the University of Kentucky. 

Chairman Sen. Steve West, R-Paris, asked Fletcher for his thoughts on the proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the General Assembly to greenlight public dollars following students to private schools. In committee, Fletcher said he was “in favor of ‘school choice,’” but would have questions about meeting public schools’ financial needs. 

He later clarified his comment with reporters, saying he opposes public funds going to private schools, but believes students should be able to attend the school they want. 

“I do believe children should have the option to go wherever they want. We do that in my own district,” Fletcher said, giving  an example of students living in one part of his county to attend a school in another area. 

He added that he will not get involved with the campaign surrounding the amendment on next November’s ballot. mendment, saying it’s not his “role to be a politician. It’s my role to serve kids.” 

The committee’s questions reflected Republicans’ disdain for former Education Commissioner Jason Glass. He left the role in September amid tensions with Republicans in Frankfort. At the time, Glass said he did not want to be part of implementing a controversial anti-transgender law that limited how schools can teach about human sexuality and gender identity and freed adult staff to misgender students. Glass is now at Western Michigan University. 

Senate Republican Whip Mike Wilson, of Bowling Green, told Fletcher that he is not “under the governor’s authority.” Wilson was the sponsor of the law that requires Senate confirmation of education commissioners. 

“You were created, and we created KDE — apart from the governor — though he appoints the board, he is not over the board,” Wilson said to Fletcher. “And you are a separate entity outside of that. However, the legislature has the responsibility in the Constitution to provide for common schools. We make the policy and you have to implement our policy.” 

When asked if he was supportive of the law that Glass did not want to implement, Fletcher told reporters his goal is “going to be to love all children — no matter what their background, no matter what decisions they’ll make.”

Robin Fields Kinney, who was an associate commissioner of the Office of Finance and Operation within KDE, has been serving as the interim education commissioner. Fletcher said he would like Kinney to remain at the department in the future. 

Ahead of the hearing, Republican Senate President Robert Stivers told reporters that he and a few other senators, including Mike Wilson, David Givens and Steve West, know Fletcher through an advisory committee of superintendents that discusses issues with lawmakers. 

Legislative staff members have gathered information about Fletcher’s background and qualifications to share with senators. Stivers added that people who know Fletcher have also submitted letters of recommendation and none have been in opposition. 

Stivers said he expected a floor vote on Fletcher’s confirmation late Friday after the hearing or Monday — the final day of the session. 

Kentucky’s education commissioner is the chief state school officer and chief executive officer for KDE. The commissioner recommends and implements KBE policies while also directing KDE in the management of the state’s 171 public school districts, the Kentucky School for the Deaf, Kentucky School for the Blind and the 50 state operated area technology centers.

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