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Politics

New Bill Would Make Commissioner of Education Elected Position Once More

November 23, 2015 - 7:45pm
Debbie Mayfield
Debbie Mayfield

Florida’s Commissioner of Education could become an elected position rather than an appointed one if a new bill passes through the Florida Legislature this year. 

The joint proposal, filed by Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, and Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, would have several implications for the state’s highest elected official, and would drastically change the makeup of the Florida Cabinet. 

Mayfield’s proposal would create a constitutional amendment to add the state’s highest education position to the Florida Cabinet and would have Cabinet members serve as the State Board of Education instead of a governor-appointed board. 

The proposed changes would take effect January 8, 2019. 

Florida’s current State Board of Education consists of seven members, each of whom is appointed by the governor for their position. The State Board is responsible for electing a Commissioner of Education. 

The State Board of Education wasn’t always this way, however. The board makeup was exactly as it’s written in Mayfield’s bill until Floridians voted and passed a constitutional amendment to change the arrangement of the Florida Cabinet to its present configuration.

Mayfield said part of the push for the constitutional amendment was to put the power back into the hands of a public concerned about the state’s education system.

“Public education is a top priority for many Floridians and one of the most important functions of government,” she said. “By allowing voters to choose their Commissioner of Education, we assure that this priority receives the sole attention and focus of the office-holder and voters will be able to directly hold that person accountable for the decisions he or she makes affecting our public schools.”

In order to pass a constitutional amendment, the proposal needs to get a thumbs up from three-fifths of both chambers in the Florida Legislature -- that means at least 72 House members have to sign on board with the bill and 24 senators would have to do the same in that chamber.

Florida has seen nine commissioners since 1998, four of whom have held the position since Gov. Rick Scott took office. Commissioner Pam Stewart’s term has been the lengthiest of any commissioner during Scott’s term. She took the reins of the position in August 2013, following former Commissioner Tony Bennett’s abrupt resignation after it was alleged Bennett changed the grading system to benefit a charter school in Indiana while he was superintendent of schools.

Stewart’s term has been incredibly rocky, since she came into the position as the state began rolling out the new Common Core-based Florida Standards, which quickly became the center of criticism from parents, teachers and members of the public statewide. Opposition to the standards has only grown louder in recent months following a botched rollout of Florida’s new assessment test, the Florida Standards Assessment, which was riddled with technical difficulties during its first administration this spring. 

Regular session begins in January.

See the full bill here

 

Comments

Pete J raises the issue of "average" voters lacking knowledge to select a State Commissioner of Education. One could certainly raise the same issue regarding the selection of a U.S. President.

Bad idea. I believe that the average voter does not possess the thorough and intimate knowledge necessary to know a really good candidate for state school board chief from a so-so or poor candidate. Perhaps a workable way to have a savvy state school board chief is to have a panel of Florida citizens, like 5, identify qualified Florida (only) citizens that would serve the position for a defined period, like 4 years. I think the popularity contest vote would become moot and students and teachers may well get a true benefit. Selection of an effective panel is important; no politicians, no former school board members, no lawyers, has to have been a Florida resident for 10 years, has to have a good dose of common sense, could be teacher or note, doesn't have to be an "educator", has management skills (really and truly), and more. Think a retired company executive or successful business owner, maybe a retired sheriff or police chief. Electing school board members or Education Commissioners is worse than getting a pig in a poke. Politicians are bad choices for doing the best for learning. Few of us voters will know the best to pick off the ballot.

WOW "Petej",.....If you can possibly find anyone with all of THOSE qualities,... I recommend "Sainthood" (because someone obviously overlooked that person as apotential Presidential candidate). However, I WOULD suggest State appointment of U.S. Senators to make them actually beholden to their home State voters instead of considering themselves "Rock Stars" and "Astronauts" (If only we could rid ourselves of that pesky 17th Amendment, correcting a hundred year old mistake...)

I think it is a bad idea. We have Boards of Education elections all the time and they are always set on low turnout elections, which put the educators in the drivers' seat. To improve the School Board Election process, a bill to hold all School Board Elections in November during the General Election on "even years" corresponding with US Congress, US Senate and Presidential elections. The student's would be better served.

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