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.