Where Does Governor Scott Really Stand on Education in Florida?

Rick ScottOne thing that we can be assured of in Florida is there will be confusion, and our governor will change his positions on education, and change his education commissioners. There are five education commissioners who have served in three years in that position, and the governor appoints members of the State Board of Education, who hire the commissioner.

The education commissioner is not supposed to be a political position, but a commissioner is forced to align their decisions with the governor’s philosophy, and satisfy the State Board’s demands.

Andy Smarick, a former New Jersey deputy education commissioner says, “All I can say for certain is the politics are still going to be rampant no matter what the government structure. It’s always going to consist of the governor’s office, the legislature, possibly the courts, and more interest groups than you could possibly imagine.”

Before 2003, the education commissioner was an elected position, until Ex-Governor Jeb Bush and a state constitutional amendment changed the system. During that period the position was extremely stable, but everything changed once Scott became governor. When Scott took office in 2011, he immediately cut $1.3 billion from the education budget and the residents and the unions were extremely upset. Also during that period Eric Smith was forced out as educational commissioner, and John Winn filled in as interim, until Gerard Robinson was hired in 2011.

Governor Scott was very aggressive when he took office, and the first bill he signed required state school districts to design a system to evaluate teachers, and then pay teachers based on their rating. The bill also stripped long-term teacher contracts, and the union initiated a lawsuit challenging the law. Scott had been in office for less than 100 days and he had created a firestorm and a lawsuit.

Our governor also threw more wood on the firestorm, when he did not visit a public school until seven months into his term. He also angered many administrators when he vetoed capital funding for repairs and construction at public schools, but charter schools received funding. The new educational commissioner quit his job in 2012, and Pam Steward was appointed as interim commissioner, while the Board searched for someone to fill the position.

During all this confusion, the state was working on the new federal system Common Core, and Scott’s Tea Party base was against the implementation of the new system. A new educational commissioner Tony Bennett was appointed in Dec. 2012, but he resigns in seven months and Pam Stewart is appointed the position.

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In the last two legislative sessions Governor Scott has increased the educational budget in 2012, by $900 million, and in 2013 by $1 billion. He has also given the teachers a raise, but the educational budget is still 3.9% less than in 2008. Many in the media believe that Ex-Governor Jeb Bush is still the boss and decision maker, when it comes to education in Florida.

Florida is a national player in education, and many pundits think Governor Scott is a puppet, who is confused, and trying to appease all the different groups in the state. He must help the state formulate a new educational grading system, improve the public schools system, and appease the Tea Party. At this point, only Governor Scott knows where he stands on education, and if he makes the right decisions, he will probably win reelection for a second term in Florida.