Senate education panel hoped to hear from Gov. Rick Scott, settles for Commissioner Bennett

Published Jan. 23, 2013

Gov. Rick Scott was scheduled to attend the Senate's Education Committee meeting this morning to talk about his education agenda, but he cancelled at the last minute. Although Education Commissioner Tony Bennett still made an appearance, Scott's absence was noted by Committee Chairman John Legg.

Legg, R-Port Richey, said he understands the governor is busy but it was Scott's office that requested the time. Senators were told they would received details about the governor's education agenda. Bennett talked about his education philosophy but was unable to provide the specifics Legg craves.

" I'm a black-and-white person. We can talk concepts all day but we're getting closer to session. And I thought that they were a little bit further along," Legg, said.

Even after removing the meeting from his calendar, Scott still has a packed schedule today with a Cabinet meeting and an an event in the Orlando area where he will propose pay raises for teachers.

Legg said he was happy to hear the governor may be proposing a boost in education spending.

"Just as a supporter of education, anytime we can put money in there is a good thing," he said. "I'm just anxious to see where his numbers are. How is he doing it? Is it going to districts for them to decide how to do it? There's all sorts of kind of policy and appropriation questions."

It was Bennett's first time facing this particular group of lawmakers. Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, said he was eager to hear from the Indiana transplant. "To say your reputation precedes you is kind of an understatement," Bullard said.

Bennett spoke about the implementation of new Common Core national standards and improving student testing. He also said he would not be abandoning his long-time support for charter schools and more student choice.

"I think we need more schools that perform better and perform differently," Bennett said. "That's innovation and that's success."

He said one of his long-term goals is addressing the widening digital divide. The next generation's achievement gap will be related to access to technology, not between races, Bennett said.

Bennett also mentioned that schools may need flexibility in implementing new teacher evaluation requirements, something Legg later agreed with.

The Education Committee also received an overview of a study on online education conducted on behalf of the Florida Board of Governors. The report lists four options for the state, with the most controversial being the creation of a new online-only university that House Speaker Will Weatherford has advocated for. If that happens, it would become Florida's 13th university and second created in just two years.

Legg said it was his first time hearing about the study and the options available, but knowing it is a Weatherford priority means the committee will take any recommendations seriously.

"Oviously we're going to give him a lot of dference and consideration," Legg said. "I'm not leaning one way."