What to know about Kentucky’s new education commissioner

Published 1:42 pm Monday, May 6, 2024

On the final day of the 2024 legislative session, the Kentucky Senate confirmed the newest commissioner of education, Dr. Robbie Fletcher.

Fletcher has been Lawrence County Superintendent since 2014. He’s also served as principal, assistant principal and math and science teachers in various Eastern Kentucky schools throughout his career.

Fletcher has advised various levels of governments on educational policy.

He was appointed by Gov. Andy Beshear to serve on the Appalachia Regional Advisory Committee, representing Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and Virginia.

In 2021, he was one of three superintendents chosen to be part of the School Funding Task Force looking at the state’s education funding mechanisms. Fletcher is also on the Kentucky Rural Education Association Board of Directors, which identifies educational challenges specific to rural Kentucky.

The Jason Glass controversy

Fletcher enters the role on the heels of political controversy.

In 2023, former commissioner Jason Glass made enemies after supporting Kentucky Department of Education guidance that recommended addressing transgender students by their preferred pronouns.

Upon questioning, Glass said that if districts adopted those policies and teachers were unwilling to follow them, they should find another job.

Glass quickly became Kentucky Republican’ adversary. Multiple Republican governor candidates ran partially on firing Glass if they were elected. Senate Bill 150 banned the Kentucky Board of Education and the Kentucky Department of Education from recommending policies for use of pronouns that don’t correspond with a student’s biological sex.

In September 2023, Glass resigned, a year before his contract was up.

“I do not wish to be part of implementing the dangerous and unconstitutional anti-LGBTQI law that the legislature passed this last session,” Glass said. “So it is time for me to move on.”

Senate confirmation

Also during the 2023 session, Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, sponsored Senate Bill 107 to require the Kentucky Senate to confirm education commissioners.

He said the legislation arose from dissatisfaction with Glass, who Wilson said hadn’t met with them for nearly 18 months.

In 2024, the Kentucky Board of Education chose Dr. Robbie Fletcher as its nomination over the other two final candidates, Eminence Independent Superintendent Buddy Berry and Ky. Association of School Superintendents Executive Director Jim Flynn.

Fletcher was confirmed in a 36-1 vote.

What are Fletcher’s goals?

First, Fletcher will focus on strategic planning—”where do we want to go and how do we want to get there?”

He also wants to create an accountability system “that everyone believes in.” The system will impact instruction on a daily basis, not just annual curriculum changes, and include input from local communities because “different parts of our state have different things they value.”

Fletcher said he’d be on campus with the Kentucky Schools for the Deaf and Blind, to ensure they are ‘lighthouses” for the country. He aims to make KDE’s communication plan more effective and audience-focused.

Also, he will visit schools to maintain personal contact with students, and may show up to a Friday night game or two.

Fletcher said the legislature made a huge education investment this budget session — the best he’s seen in his time — “but I’ll always ask for more resources.” He added that he would advocate for raises for teachers and classified staff.

While Fletcher said he will vote against the school choice amendment because he doesn’t believe public funds should go to private organizations, if it does pass, he will do his best to make sure it’s implemented the best way possible.

Fletcher emphasized the importance of respecting all students and making them feel comfortable, in response to questions about DEI and pronoun policies.

“We want to make sure we serve all students, that we treat all students equally, we treat all students fairly and we give all students the same type of opportunities,” he said.