Florida politicians have the power to right a serious wrong and give voters the chance to return to an elected Commissioner of Education and restore this important position to its rightful place in the governor’s cabinet, which would revert to its previous role as the Board of Education.
HJR 767 by Rep. Debbie Mayfield and SJR 942 by Sen. Rene Garcia would place the question on the 2016 ballot, requiring 60% of the vote to pass. These brave legislators understand that parents, teachers and children, the very people paying the price for “reform,” are shut out of public education policy decisions. Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike resent the closed circle of a governor-appointed board of education and an appointed commissioner mixed with the undue influence of the Foundation for Florida’s Future, chamber types and the charter industry.
This week SJR 942 passed unanimously in the Florida Senate Ethics and Elections Committee. Bill sponsor, Sen. Garcia, said in the Tampa Bay Times, “If the education commissioner is the highest ranking education official in Florida, it’s important to have that member … to have a seat in the Cabinet.” The bill is scheduled next for Senate PreK-12 Education and will have its final committee stop in Senate Rules, giving it a chance to actually move.
The problem lies in the Florida House whose leadership sticks stubbornly to the education “reform” agenda. As a result, Rep. Mayfield’s HJR 767 is saddled with a crippling four committee stops. It’s been added and removed from Rep. Adkins education committee more than once. The roadblocks thrown by House leadership mean the return to an elected Commissioner of Education poses a frightening threat to the comfort of their absolute power.
As Rep. Mayfield told the Times: “We tend to forget that child doesn’t belong to the government. That child doesn’t belong to the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Parents should have a say in who is selected.”
Politicians lost the plot a long time ago. Back in 2000, former Governor Jeb Bush used the Constitutional Revision Commission to engineer the change from elected to appointed education commissioner. It passed as a ballot initiative in 2002. Florida was left with a significantly homogenized cabinet which combined the positions of comptroller and treasurer to create the Chief State Fiscal Officer, removed the Secretary of State and Commissioner of Education and converted them to appointed positions. The goal was to have a small cabinet that would be under one party/gubernatorial control. The elected cabinet now is: CFO, Attorney General and Commissioner of Agriculture.
In the case of public education, if there’s no dissenting voice of authority anywhere, the people’s will becomes irrelevant. It’s much easier to micro manage teachers, erode school board power, use high stakes testing to hurt children and ultimately sell the whole lot off to the highest bidder. All without our permission.
Rep. Mayfield and Sen. Garcia, both Republicans, have taken a crucial first step. It’s going to take repeated attempts and big conversations to change the closed circle of the Governor, Board of Education, Commissioner of Education and their band of profit-driven policy influencers. It’s going to take unflinching public oversight to elect folks who understand that the oath of office is a moral contract.
The simplicity of HJR 767/SJR 942 is that it restores what existed when there was much more commitment to serving real people instead of corporations and ROI philanthropists. It may not be perfect, but it beats what we have right now.
Take action today. Click on this link to let legislators know how you feel.