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Kentucky Education Commissioner nominee wins glowing reviews ahead of confirmation vote

Kentucky Education Commissioner nominee Dr. Robbie Fletcher shakes hands with Sen. Gerald Neal (D-Louisville) following an information-only hearing on April 12, 2024.
Josh James
Kentucky Education Commissioner nominee Dr. Robbie Fletcher shakes hands with Sen. Gerald Neal (D-Louisville) following an information-only hearing on April 12, 2024.

The nominee for Kentucky Education Commissioner appears poised for confirmation by the Senate by Monday.

Lawrence County Superintendent Dr. Robbie Fletcher sat before a panel of senators and spoke about his lengthy resume in Kentucky school systems, leadership style, and hypothetical priorities. None of the lawmakers — Republican or Democrat — expressed any reservations regarding the nomination, instead relaying only positive words from Fletcher's colleagues.

The nominee was asked about a constitutional amendment that could allow public dollars to flow into nonpublic schools. Fletcher told the panel he favors "school choice," but clarifying that answer with reporters afterward he said that would not translate to personal support for the amendment.

"I'm going to walk in the booth and vote against it, but if... other people vote for it, then that's going to be my responsibility to make sure it happens in the best possible way," he said. "So, you look at your operation definition of school choice. If you're talking about moving public funds out of the public schools, I'm not for that. With that being said, I do believe children should have the option to go wherever they want."

Fletcher said he would not be jumping into the political fray over the issue. The same applies for a 2023 bill that his predecessor, Jason Glass, specifically cited as a reason he left the post — SB 150, a measure that instituted new restrictions on transgender minors. On that matter, Fletcher said his goal is make sure all students feel safe and loved.

"No matter what their background, no matter what decisions they make, my goal will be to love all children," he said.

Fletcher praised the increases in state education spending, offered support for increasing teacher pay, promised to keep interim commissioner Robin Fields Kinney on staff as long as possible, and expressed a preference against work-from-home pending further review — vowing to keep the General Assembly in the loop on the decisions coming out of KDE.

A leading Republican who had initially thrown cold water on the nominee said he was feeling more comfortable with the choice.

Senate GOP Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer says incorrect information he received about Fletcher had given him pause. But now he's feeling more at ease about the choice.

"I wanted to be sure that we weren't going to confirm a partisan into that very important role," he said.

Fletcher is the first such nominee for the position to undergo scrutiny and a confirmation vote by the Senate. The vote is expected on Monday.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.