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Friday, May 24, 2024

Education governance proposal gains momentum

A legislative proposal that would restructure education governance in Florida is a few steps closer to becoming law.

The joint resolution, which was proposed last month, would amend the Florida Constitution to place an elected education commissioner on the Florida Cabinet and decrease the members of the Board of Governors, the State University System's highest governing body, from 17 to eight.

The amendment would also decrease the power of the board, only giving it authority as provided by the Legislature.

Two Senate committees and one House council voted in favor of the proposal, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Carlton, R-Sarasota, and Rep. Joe Pickens, R-Palatka, but the Board of Governors is urging legislators not to rush any decisions.

The amendment requires approval from three-fifths of the Senate and House and a 60 percent voter approval.

The Senate floor will hear the proposal next on a date yet to be determined. After that, it will move to the House.

The Senate's Committees on Education Pre-K-12 Appropriations and Higher Education Appropriations both voted unanimously in favor of the resolution on March 5 and 13, respectively.

Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, chairman of the Education Pre-K-12 Appropriations Committee, said an elected education commissioner would balance the Cabinet, which currently consists of four members: Gov. Charlie Crist, Florida's attorney general, the chief financial officer and the commissioner of agriculture.

An education commissioner currently exists, but he is appointed by Crist and does not serve on the Cabinet.

The House's Schools and Learning Council also voted in favor of the proposal March 7.

Pickens said an education system run by elected officials would be less politicized than the current one.

Currently, the governor appoints 14 Board of Governors members, and three are elected. The proposal would decrease the appointed members to five.

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If passed, the resolution would also answer the question of who has authority to set tuition, the focus of a current lawsuit between the Legislature and the Board of Governors.

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham filed suit against the Legislature in July 2007, arguing that the Board of Governors - not the Legislature - had power over Florida's public universities, including power to set tuition.

Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, and House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-Miami, are the defendants.

Bill Edmonds, Board of Governors spokesman, said he hoped the Legislature would not rush any decisions on the newest resolution so that voters could share their views.

More than 60 percent of Florida citizens voted in favor of establishing the board in 2002, Edmonds added.

"If a majority of voters change their minds, then a lot changes," he said. "It'll wipe out the current Board of Governors and establish a new board that appears to have less control managing resources system-wide."

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