WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is returning to the classroom, taking a part-time job teaching politics at Florida International University in Miami.
Rubio was hired last month and he will co-teach four courses at the School of International and Public Affairs, earning a $24,000 annual salary with no benefits.
"I am always excited to see young people who are interested in politics and public service," said Rubio, 40. "I enjoy providing them real world insights on elections and policymaking."
The job was cleared by the Senate Ethics Committee, led by a Democrat, though Florida Democrats blasted it as another sweetheart deal for Rubio and demanded he give it up.
Rubio, who earns $174,000 as a senator, first worked at FIU after leaving the Florida Legislature in 2008 due to term limits. At that time, he was paid $69,000 with it partially offset by money he raised for the school. His salary was reduced to $40,000 as he ramped up his Senate campaign.
He was well regarded by students, but the unadvertised job was controversial, the latest example of a state lawmaker landing a job at a state college. It also came as FIU was grappling with a $32 million budget shortfall that led to tuition hikes and the loss of 23 degree programs and 200 jobs.
Rubio will teach on Monday and Friday mornings, when the Senate is typically not in session. Two other professors, including Rubio's friend and onetime pollster Dario Moreno, will cover when Rubio cannot be in Miami.
Senate ethics rules have long made it difficult for lawmakers to hold outside employment. It mainly stems from when many lawmakers were lawyers.
"There was a question whether people who were giving them retainers wanted their legal assistance or their political assistance. It created all sorts of ethics questions," said Senate historian Donald Ritchie.
Rubio and other lawyers — and doctors and architects — are effectively limited from working because they cannot receive compensation or associate with a firm.
The rules make two exceptions: for teaching (as long as it's not a single lecture) and book royalties. There have been other professor-senators, including Joseph R. Biden of Delaware, now vice president.
Rubio got approval of the Ethics Committee in mid April, which said no Senate resources could be used and that Rubio's preparation and teaching would be done on his own time. Travel between his Miami home and Washington is covered by the government, as it is for all lawmakers. His pay at FIU falls under the maximum amount of allowed outside compensation, which is $26,955.
The return to teaching also reopens past controversy.
"Clearly, lessons in ethics and propriety didn't come with Marco Rubio's move to Washington," said Florida Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff.
A December 2009 St. Petersburg Times story showed how, as a legislator, Rubio helped the school obtain millions in funding, though it had all been scheduled for funding at some point by the Board of Governors, a difference with the case of former House Speaker Ray Sansom.
Rubio's office dismissed Thursday's reaction from Democrats as partisanship, noting that the Ethics Committee is overseen by Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California.
Biden had a similar arrangement at Widener University School of Law in Delaware. He's listed on the school's website as "currently on leave of absence."
Rubio's finances were brought into view during his Senate campaign. For his last year as speaker, Rubio reported a net worth of less than $8,400, despite earning his legislative and teaching salary and $300,000 from the Broad & Cassell law firm. He had about $900,000 in home, car and student loan debt. Rubio's first financial disclosure since taking office will be released June 15.
Rubio's motivation is not money, said spokesman Alex Burgos.
"Obviously, he will be compensated for providing a service, and that's always welcome when you're supporting a young family of four children," Burgos said. "But this decision was based on his passion for teaching, desire to share his real world perspectives with students, and accepted with confidence that he can properly balance it with his duties as Florida's U.S. senator."
The news was formally announced by FIU on Thursday, after first appearing on the Shark Tank blog. The contract runs through May 2013 and involves four classes: Florida politics (summer 2011), political parties (fall 2011), legislative politics (spring 2012) and advanced legislative politics (summer 2012).
The classes will likely be hits with students — taught by a sitting senator and national Republican star who is already seen as a presidential or vice presidential candidate. He was asked again Thursday on Fox News Channel. Rubio replied, laughing, "No, I'm not running for president in 2012."