State Rep. Carl Rollins, chairman of the House Education Committee, resigned from the Kentucky House on Wednesday.
Rollins, 65, a Midway Democrat first elected in 2006, resigned to accept appointment as chief executive of the Kentucky Higher Education Student Loan Corp. and executive director of the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority.
Rollins had been marketing manager of just the student loan corporation. But he said his new job as the head the Higher Education Assistance Authority places him within an executive branch agency — a conflict that he said requires him to resign from the legislature.
Rollins said in his letter of resignation to Gov. Steve Beshear that during his five sessions as chairman of the House Education Committee “we proved that by working in a bipartisan manner, we could make significant improvements to public education for the children and citizens of the Commonwealth.”
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, called Rollins “a great colleague whose leadership has been instrumental in moving Kentucky’s educational system forward.”
Stu Silberman, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, said: “Carl has been a champion for kids. ... He made his decisions best for kids and the state and did it in a way that forced those he dealt with to be collaborative.”
Brad Hughes, spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association, said: “This is a tremendous loss for public education. Carl Rollins devoted himself to learning the minutia of education like no other legislator I’ve ever known.”
Education leaders credited Rollins for passage of the 2012 “Districts of Innovation” law that allows school districts to get waivers from state regulations in trying innovative ways to improve student learning.
Rollins played a role in the 2009 passage of Senate Bill 1, which revamped the state’s student testing and accountability process. He sponsored legislation that allowed students to transfer from community colleges to universities without losing credits and was a key player this year in passage of a bill that is likely to result in increasing the mandatory school attendance age to 18 from 16 within seven years.
Later Wednesday Beshear set June 25 as the date for a special election to fill the vacancy in the 56th District, which includes all of Woodford County and parts of Franklin and Fayette counties.
House Democrats now hold a 54-45 margin over Republicans with the Rollins vacancy.
The Kentucky Secretary of State website shows 59 percent of voters in the district are registered as Democrats, 34 percent are Republicans and 7 percent are other.
Kentucky Republican Chairman Steve Robertson said county GOP organizations in the district “are engaged in an active search (for a candidate) and I feel confident it will produce a good result.”
But Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Dan Logsdon said, “I’m confident we will hold that seat.”
One Democrat likely to seek the office is James Kay, 30, a Versailles attorney who works on the House majority leadership staff. “I’m going to let the (nomination) process work, but it would be an honor and privilege to run to succeed Rep. Rollins,” Kay said.
The House Democratic majority will select a new chairman for the Education Committee. Stumbo said he and other House leaders will be accepting letters from members interested in the appointment.
Rollins said among those he expected to be considered as his successor as chairman are current committee members Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, and Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville.
Rollins said his new job pays $170,000 a year. But he said the move will not, and cannot, enhance his legislative pension because he said he has never been a member of the legislative pension system.
Some other legislators who have resigned in recent years to take high-paying jobs in other branches of government have been able to take advantage of a 2005 law that allowed them to significantly boost their pensions.