Castor Backs New Push To Elect Education Commissioner

Dec 17, 2015

There is a renewed call to make Florida’s Education Secretary an elected position – again.

The state’s top educator used to be elected statewide and served as a member of the Florida Cabinet. The cabinet also served as the Florida Board of Education.

But a 2002 constitutional amendment approved by voters changed it into an appointed position. The argument, back then, was to get “politics” out of education. But many think that backfired and Florida education policy has become more steeped in politics than ever before.

Two Republican lawmakers, Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, and Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, have filed bills to reinstate the elected Education Commissioner and put the position back in the Florida Cabinet.

Former Florida Education Commissioner Betty Castor was elected and served from 1986 to 1994. She talked with WUSF reporter Bobbie O’Brien about the new effort to restore the elected post.

“If you sit as Agriculture Commissioner today guess what you’re still elected statewide,” Castor said. “Now, tell me that education isn’t just as important in this state as agriculture.”

Castor said the governor-appointed Florida Board of Education and appointed Education Secretary are not responsive to parents, teachers, local school boards and local chambers of commerce.

“I would argue strongly when we thought we would take politics out of education,” Castor said. “What we did was to lose the advocacy and the understanding and the commitment to support education.”

You can follow the legislation to again elect Florida's Education Commissioner, HJR 767 and SJR 942, during the 2016 session that begins in early January.