The State Board of Education regretfully appointed a replacement for suddenly-departed Education Commissioner Tony Bennett today. Meanwhile, state Democrats floated the idea of a constitutional amendment to make the top education job an elected position, as it was 10 years ago.
Bennett quit this week after the blowback from a school grading scandal at his previous job in Indiana made it impossible for him to continue in Florida. Bennett was a favorite of education reformer and former Governor Jeb Bush and a passionate supporter of the new Common Core state standards.
Barbara Feingold of Delray Beach is one of several board members who hated to see him go.
"I believe that this is a man of deep integrity whose number one concern was the best education for florida's children", Feingold said.
Several members were equally distraught but it took only a couple of minutes in a conference call to select his interim replacement.
Pam Stewart is the state system's K-through-12 chancellor, and this will be her second stint as interim commissioner. Until a voter approved constitutional amendment that took effect in 2003, the education commissioner was an elected cabinet official, like the attorney general and chief financial officer. But in another conference call, state Democrats said it's too big a job to be filled by the governor's appointment, and too limiting for the voters. Miami State Senator Dwight Bullard did the talking.
"It’s safe to say that the person who comes in is going to reflect whatever philosophy of that governor", said Bullard.
Political scientist Susan MacManus at the University of South Florida said it’s a matter of who would be more accountable, an appointed commissioner or an elected one.
"An elected official would mean that that official is, and an appointed one would mean that the governor is", MacManus said.
That's the theory anyway, says MacManus. But as a practical matter, she says the governor takes the heat and the applause no matter how the commissioner gets the job.