Education reform sparks debate

Gov. Jeb Bush announced Wednesday that state Sen. Jim Horne will be the new secretary for the Board of Education. Bush also named the seven-member education board, leaving only the naming of the 11 university boards of trustees to complete the structure of the state’s new education system.

However, one group is challenging the changes.

A steering committee has been formed to put an initiative on the ballot in November 2002 that would reverse the recent restructuring of Florida’s higher education, which in the past year has included the abolishment of the Board of Regents to be replaced with autonomous university boards of trustees.

The genesis for change in Florida’s education system began in 1998 when Floridians voted on a constitutional amendment that replaced the Florida education board with a board appointed by the governor, which oversees kindergarten through graduate education.

The Florida Legislature then voted to eliminate the university Board of Regents and replace it with individual trustee boards for the then-10 state universities.

Robin Gibson, the spokesman for the steering committee, said the differences in the committee’s proposed structure of the education system include creating a Board of Governors that would oversee the Florida education system.

Similar to the newly appointed FBOE, Gibson said the governor would also appoint members to the Board of Governors, but the terms would be longer than four years so a member’s time on the board will surpass a governor’s administration.

Gibson said with governors appointing members for a term longer than their administration, the board will have more stability.

Gibson said while the governor will still make appointments to the board, the question of whether a person would remain faithful to the governor’s party would depend upon the board members themselves.

“It depends on the individual and the quality of the appointment,” Gibson said. “We want the type of person who will make good decisions for the university system – a person whose loyalties will go to the university system.”

One proposal by the steering committee was similar to the state’s new plan – having individual university trustee boards.

But unlike the appointment process for the university boards in the state’s new system, in which the governor names the 12-person boards for the 11 state universities, the Education Excellence Committee plans to have the governor name only one-third of the members of the trustee boards, and the Board of Governors would name the rest.

As with the new state’s plan, the student body president from each university would have a place on the board.

Gibson said a petition drive to put the Education Excellence Initiative on the 2002 ballot will begin this fall.

Gibson said during the petition drive, his committee will work to find support for the initiative, which proposes an alternative to the new Florida education structure.

Gibson said he wants to educate the public about Florida’s educational system and the importance of his committee’s proposals.

“This will be a little more public than the other initiatives,” Gibson said. “Because the system of education that will go into effect on July 1 has already gained much consternation and consideration, the alternative will receive a good amount of public notice.”

One supporter of the Education Excellence Initiative is U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla. Graham has opposed the abolishment of the Board of Regents.

Kimberly James, spokeswoman for Graham, said while the senator is not on the committee, he does support its cause.

“Sen. Graham will continue to work with the group and continue to act on this issue,” James said.