Education Commissioner talks about future of schools, his job in State of Education Address

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WKYT) – Kentucky’s Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Wayne Lewis says Kentucky has work to do in the classroom in order to see growth. Meanwhile, he’s discussing his future – in or out of his office.

Questions remain about Lewis’ future in the department. He says his team has worked hard and has momentum but if removed says he will adjust and so will Kentuckians.

On Tuesday Lewis delivered his State of Education to state and local school leaders.

The yearly update provides insight on what research is showing inside Kentucky classrooms.

Lewis says while progress has been made for years, 2018 to 2019 brought in stalling numbers. Data from K-Prep, ACT, NAEP test scores and Kentucky Center for Statistics show progress has slowed.

Lewis says the data shows many high schoolers are leaving the classroom unprepared for college or the workforce.

The example Lewis described to those gathered for the update was based on graduation numbers from 2011 and where those graduates are now. The numbers show 2011 saw 43,626 high school graduates. Seven years later just over 9,000 would had earned a bachelor’s degree – on average earning $34,000 a year.

"I think your reaction to those numbers is probably similar to mine in that they are nowhere near where you would like them to be," said Lewis.

African-American elementary students also remain underserved, according to Lewis.

“Results from the 2019 K-PREP assessment, show an alarming percentage of African-American elementary students are scoring at the Novice level in reading – 40.2% are at this level of academic emergency,” he said.

Lewis took time to speak with the press afterwards explaining how he would like to move the state forward – if given the opportunity to continue serving.

Governor-Elect Andy Beshear has been a longtime critic of the commissioner since he stepped into the office in April of 2018.

During his campaign, Beshear repeatedly told voters he would rebuild the department’s leadership beginning with Lewis.

When asked by WKYT’s Nick Oliver about his conversations with the Governor-Elect, Lewis said he has never spoken a word to the current Attorney General.

“I’ve never met the Governor-Elect – never had a conversation with him.”

Lewis says he would be happy to sit down and have a conversation with Beshear but has not been given the opportunity. He however, has met with Beshear’s transition team. Lewis says they simply requested state documents and details about ongoing lawsuits.

Lewis took time to talk about the words Beshear has shared with the public and says at times they were offensive and uncalled for -- claiming he himself has never said a good or bad word about the Attorney General.

“Any suggestion that I don’t have a commitment to public education is ridiculous.”

Questions remain about Lewis’ future in the department. He says his team has worked hard and has momentum but if removed says he will adjust and so will Kentuckians.

"It has been a long time since I have worried about having a job,” said Lewis. “Whether I am the Commissioner of Education or not. I’m going to be perfectly fine.”

If removed by the Governor-Elect and ultimately the board, Lewis must receive a 90 day notice based on a clause in his contract.

Andy Beshear will be sworn into office December 10.

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