Familiar faces will lead Senate education committees

One change will see the PreK-12 and Higher Education appropriation committees merged into one.
Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr. SCOTT KEELER | Times
Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr. SCOTT KEELER | Times
Published Nov. 26, 2018

Lawmakers with long track records on Florida public education will be heading the state Senate's committees overseeing the subject that remains among the most watched and debated each session.

Newly elected Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, will chair the chamber's education policy committee, with Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, as vice chairman.

Diaz, who has worked for a charter school firm in Miami, led the education appropriations committee in the House before winning his Senate seat. Some of his priorities have been to expand choice options and to create more autonomy for school principals.

Montford heads the state superintendents association, and has often been a thorn in the side of the Republican accountability initiative. He also has been known to compromise, sometimes to the dismay of his educator constituent base, as when his vote sealed the passage of the controversial HB 7055 that included union decertification and expanded tax credit scholarships.

Joining them on the panel will be Senate president pro tempore David Simmons, R-Longwood, a supporter of enhancing both choice and public schools; Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, a vocal backer for teachers while House minority leader; Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, a longtime charter school proponent who has served on several education committees; Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who has advocated for religious rights in public schools, among other issues; Sen. Lori Berman, D-Lantana; and Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville.

Stargel will chair the subcommittee on education appropriations, with Diaz as vice chair.

Others on that committee include Baxley, Montford and Simmons, along with Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, who has led similar panels in the past; Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation; and newly elected Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami.

Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, the Naples Republican who led the appropriations committee in the last session, will instead serve as majority leader.

The Senate has signaled its interest in bolstering district schools in addition to alternative options, while the House has so far taken a stronger stand for expanding choice only. Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, will chair the House education effort.

She was a staunch supporter of home school initiatives and tax credit scholarship programs, among other issues, in the past session.

Committees are slated to convene the week of Dec. 11.