KBE SPOTLIGHT | Mike Bowling learned to serve from mother, high school civics teacher

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Chase Smith shares with Kentucky Board of Education member Mike Bowling one of the project-based learning activities that his team was working on as a capstone in the Jobs for America's Graduates program at Middlesboro High School (Middlesboro Independent).
Chase Smith shares with Kentucky Board of Education member Mike Bowling one of the project-based learning activities that his team was working on as a capstone in the Jobs for America’s Graduates program at Middlesboro High School (Middlesboro Independent). Bowling, a graduate of the high school, said one of his top concerns while serving on the state board is to make sure funding is secure for local districts.
Photo by Frank Shelton, March 2, 2020
  • The Middlesboro High School graduate served as the attorney for the Bell County Board of Education for 12 years.
  • Just a year after the Kentucky Education Reform Act was passed, Bowling was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives for the 87th District and said he had to fight off attacks on the law that transformed education in the state.

By Jennifer Ginn
jennifer.ginn@education.ky.gov

Mike Bowling has a unique perspective on education.

“My father was in the military,” said Bowling of Middlesboro, one of the new members on the Kentucky Board of Education. “I moved 18 times in 18 years. I went to six different high schools. I went to schools in Europe and all over the United States. I met new people all the time.

“I got a perspective of their cultures and other folks that you can’t get in a school system. I learned that most people are pretty decent people. They want to do well for their community and they want to do well for their children. They want their children to get a great education.”

While Bowling attended school in many different states and Germany, Bowling’s favorite teacher was Mary Slemp, a civics teacher at Middlesboro High School (Middlesboro Independent).

“Back in those days, civics was a very important part of the curriculum in high school,” he said. “Local government was very important in Kentucky. Most people’s interaction with government was on the local level, not so much with their state legislators. I learned a lot about government from her.”

Bowling took those lessons to heart. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Kentucky in 1978 and went on to law school at Northern Kentucky University.

“At the time, there was a shortage of JAG (Judge Advocate General’s Corps) officers in the U.S. Army and I actually passed the bar exam before I graduated from law school in 1981,” he said. “I served four years on active duty.”

Bowling began practicing law in his hometown of Middlesboro in 1985. He co-founded a law firm in 1992 and now is a partner in the Bowling Law Office along with his son Blake. His wife Jamie served for 16 years on the Middlesboro Independent School Board, including 12 years as chair.

For 12 years, Bowling served as the attorney for the Bell County Board of Education, marking the official beginning of his work in K-12 education. The district made a lot of improvements during the time he was working with the board, but he discovered the difficulties that sometimes come with making those advances.

“We ended up closing down five elementary schools and then building three. You can imagine what it takes, what you go through when you close five elementary schools in communities,” Bowling said. “I learned the world of lawsuits and the world of all the open records violations that can be brought up in 10 million different ways.

“We were able to successfully close those schools and today, the people are very satisfied, happy because we built three new modern, wonderful schools for them. They do get over it, but sometimes change can be a little difficult.”

Kentucky Board of Education member Mike Bowling, a graduate of Middlesboro High School, visits his alma mater and shares his experience with students.
Kentucky Board of Education member Mike Bowling, a graduate of Middlesboro High School, visits his alma mater and shares his experience with students. He noted that he was in the JROTC program and how teachers there inspired him to pursue the career he has today as an attorney.
Photo by Frank Shelton, March 2, 2020

Learning to deal with change continued for Bowling when in 1991, just a year after the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) was passed, he was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives for the 87th District. It a position he would serve in until 1998.

“There were many attempts to take KERA apart or take sections out of it,” he said. “I was such a backer of the original KERA, I fought a lot of those. We constantly had to fight off attacks on KERA.”

Bowling’s middle son, Adam, now sits in the same seat in the General Assembly he occupied. Bowling and his wife also have a daughter, Ashley Kraska, who lives in Boston with her family.

Bowling said it is important for him to be of service to others. He currently serves as a board member for the Legal Aid Society of Kentucky and Prevent Child Abuse. It’s a lesson he learned from his mother, who was born in Germany and spent 14 years of her life living in bomb shelters.

“This is why I have kind of dedicated my life to legal aid societies and public defenders,” he said. “It is very important to me that the underserved and those that didn’t have equal opportunities are given that at some point in their life, that they are protected.”

One of Bowling’s main concerns while he is serving on the state board is to make sure funding is secure for local school districts.

“I’m a strong advocate for passing some tax revenue that will provide funding that is vitally needed in all of our school districts around the state,” he said. “We have poor school districts and very fortunate school districts, therefore all of our children are not getting an equal education.”

Bowling’s term will expire April 14, 2024.

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