Frankfort Independent Schools may have some high-profile new students in the future, as Kentucky's new first family considers enrollment in the public school district. They wouldn't be the first children of a governor to attend FIS.
Gov. Andy Beshear told reporters this week that the family will be “taking a tour of that school system. It’s run by a great superintendent, its test scores are wonderful, so it presents a really good opportunity.”
“On Monday, Gov. Beshear said his family was still working through the next year and that his children were in the middle of the current school year,” Beshear spokesperson Crystal Staley said in an email on Thursday. ”The governor and first lady want to do what is best for their children and will be taking a tour of the Frankfort school system.”
Beshear’s children, 10-year-old Will and 9-year-old Lila, currently attend a Louisville private school. Beshear himself graduated from Henry Clay High School, a public school in Lexington.
FIS Superintendent Houston Barber has been at the district's helm since the summer of 2015 and was part of the governor's transition team. He did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Earlier this year, Frankfort High School and the middle school grades at Second Street School both received a four-star rating on a five-star scale under the state Department of Education’s new rating accountability system for K-PREP scores. The elementary grades received three stars.
At a Sept. 20 press conference in which he announced a promise to give all Kentucky teachers a $2,000 pay raise, Beshear, then a candidate for his current office, told reporters that he planned to enroll Will and Lila in a public school.
“I’m a public school graduate. I believe in public schools and my kids will be going to a public middle school,” he said at the time. He said the family “fell in love” with the Louisvile private school after Will and Lila attended its preschool program.
Later, during a gubernatorial debate in October, then-Gov. Matt Bevin called Beshear a “fraud” for touting himself as a pro-public education candidate while sending his kids to a private school. Beshear replied by saying again that he and his wife, Britainy, “fell in love” with the school where their children attended preschool, but one was taking a test soon after the debate to enter a public middle school.
“We are going to have an education-first budget where we always take care of public education first,” Beshear said in the debate before the exchange.
Kentucky State Police spokesman Sgt. Josh Lawson said in an email that the Executive Security Branch of KSP provides personal security for the governor. When asked if KSP would have to make accommodations with FIS if the Beshear children were to attend the school, Lawson told The State Journal that he wasn’t aware of how the branch specifically performs its duties, but he would not be able to discuss the details regardless.
“I can say they will provide the same level of security that has been provided by the Kentucky State Police for all previous governors to Gov. Beshear and his family,” Lawson said.
There are some existing ties between Beshear’s administration and FIS. Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman’s husband, Chris O’Bryan, is the head coach of Frankfort High’s boys basketball team and her stepsons, Will and Nate, are students at the high school.
Former governors have also enrolled their kids in FIS schools. According to newspaper clippings at the Capital City Museum, Gov. Louie Nunn’s children, Steve Nunn and Jennie Nunn Penn, graduated from Frankfort High, as well as Gov. Wendell Ford’s son, Steve Ford. Susan Breathitt, daughter of Gov. Ned Breathitt, went to Second Street School and FHS.
Former Gov. Julian Carroll said that his three oldest children were enrolled in FIS. His youngest daughter, Ellyn, born while he was in office, was later enrolled at Capital Day School. He said that his children had been enrolled in public schools in McCracken County before the family moved to Frankfort, so Carroll and his late wife, Charlann, decided to continue with public education when moving into the Governor’s Mansion.
Carroll recalled attending several Frankfort High sporting events when his kids were scheduled to play, as well as running into students who were taking their lunch at Pic-Pac while he was in the grocery store to pick up a few things.
As far as security for his kids, Carroll said that they didn’t have much day-to-day security, but there was only one instance when son Kenneth and daughter Patrice were away at college. Carroll had just signed a bill that eliminated the private bail-bond system and a threat was made on his life, he said. In response, his own security was doubled and Kenneth and Patrice had 24-hour security.
“It’s a parental decision, with respect to parents as what they think is best for their children,” Carroll said on the choice that the Beshears will make for their children’s schooling.
FIS “is one of our better public school systems,” Carroll said, noting “tremendous leadership” throughout the years. He said that the school district has struggled financially, due to most of the property within the district being owned by the state and tax-exempt.