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Elected Education Post Clears First Hurdle, Unanimously

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There appears to be early backing by lawmakers to let voters - and not the governor - decide who should run Florida’s Department of Education.

On Tuesday, a Senate committee unanimously approved the bill (SJR942) that returns the Florida Commissioner of Education to an elected, cabinet level position – if approved by 60 percent of voters.

The Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections took less than five minutes to hear, discuss and vote on the Senate Joint Resolution.

State Sen. Geri Thompson, D-Orlando, had the only questions.

“If there was a lot of thought put into making it appointed, can you help me understand why we would now want to go back to having it elected?” Thompson asked.

Prior to 2003, Florida’s top education post was elected statewide and sat as a member of the Florida Cabinet. The changed to a governor appointment was promoted and approved by voters back then as a way to take politics out of education policy.

But the bill sponsor, State Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, believes the result has instead removed the voters from having a direct say.

“All of our school boards are elected by the people and this is the highest education office that exists in the State of Florida,” Garcia said. “I think the people of Florida should have a say in who leads the education sector in the state.”

Garcia added that education is so important in the state that is deserves a cabinet post.

The bill’s next stop is the Senate Education Committee for Pre-K-12 and then the Rules Committee. Those hearings are not scheduled yet.

To put the measure on the ballot, 60 percent of lawmakers in the House and Senate must approve the constitutional amendment.

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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