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Making A Case To Elect Top Educator

Sen. Debbie Mayfield
Florida House of Representatives
Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, debates on the House floor March 18, 2015.

Right now, Florida’s top educator is two steps removed from voters. The state education commissioner is appointed by a board and that board is appointed by the governor.

But lawmakers are considering legislation that would change the Florida Commissioner of Education into a statewide, elected position and add the post to the Florida Cabinet.

The idea has been proposed before, but this time, it’s gaining traction according to State Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach. She said parents, local school boards and other lawmakers are interested.

Grassroots movements like the one to stop Common Core standards are a sign that the state education commissioner is not in touch with parents, Mayfield said.

“We have gotten away from the fact of who these children belong to,” Mayfield said in a telephone interview Monday. “And they belong to their parents and so their parents should be the one making decisions as to the direction of the education that they’re being given.”

She believes parents should have the power to directly choose the state commissioner.

Mayfield and State Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Miami, are co-sponsoring legislation (HJR 767 and SJR 942) that takes the appointment power away from the governor if passed by the legislature and approved by 60 percent of voters.

“This does not have to be signed by the governor. This is a house joint resolution. If it’s passed out of the house, if it’s passed out of the senate, it goes to the Secretary of State to be prepared to be put on the 2016 ballot,” Mayfield said.

Education is the second largest budget expense in Florida and another reason Mayfield said the position should be directly responsible to voters.

She also pointed out the high rate of turnover since the position became appointed in 2002 and said it has contributed to an inconsistent education policy.

“We have had seven appointed commissioners in the last 12 years – seven,” Mayfield said. “So that’s an average of about 1.8 years. Over the 38 year period before this change was taken, we had seven elected commissioners which averaged about six years. So at least it would be some consistency and some continuity in the process of the education.”

The legislation also would return the Florida Cabinet to serving as the Florida Board of Education instead of the governor-appointed panel.

Bobbie O’Brien has been a Reporter/Producer at WUSF since 1991. She reports on general news topics in Florida and the Tampa Bay region.
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