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Florida Senate education committees set

Lawyers, businesspeople make up the majority of the panel membership.
Florida Senate committees are appointed in advance of the the 2021 legislative session.
Florida Senate committees are appointed in advance of the the 2021 legislative session. [ STEVE CANNON | AP ]
Published Dec. 3, 2020

Two educators serve in the Florida Senate. Both will sit on at least one education-related committee for the upcoming 2021 legislative session.

But they will be outnumbered by lawyers and businesspeople, who also have the larger representation in the upper chamber.

Five of the 10-member Education Committee, which reviews policy issues, are attorneys. The nine-member Education Appropriations subcommittee is a bit more balanced, with three legal professionals.

Republicans, who hold the majority in the Senate, also keep an edge on each committee, though Democrat Shevrin Jones — one of the two educators — was named vice chairman of the policy panel. The other educator, Hialeah Republican Manny Diaz Jr., will be vice chairman of the appropriations subcommittee while also serving on the policy committee.

So who’s on each? Here’s the rundown:

Education — Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, CPA (chairman); Jones; Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach, attorney; Jennifer Bradley, R-Orange Park, attorney; Doug Broxson, R-Pensacola, insurance; Diaz; Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast, real estate developer; Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, attorney; Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, attorney; Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, attorney

Education Appropriations — Broxson (chairman); Diaz; Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, optician; Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, paralegal; Gruters; Hutson; Passidomo; Polsky; Tom Wright, R-Port Orange, retired businessman

Some of the names are more familiar than others to Tallahassee education watchers.

Diaz has been perhaps the most prominent Republican on the topic in recent years, spearheading several initiatives supported by the governor’s office. An administrator of a college associated with a charter school firm, he has backed legislation expanding vouchers, charters and choice. He recently has signaled support for education savings accounts.

He’s far from the only one to be active on the issue, though. Passidomo recently chaired the appropriations subcommittee, and has been a prominent advocate of mental health supports in schools. Cruz — a holdover from the past Education Committee along with Diaz and Berman — has pushed to bar for-profit charter schools from operating in the state, and supported such ideas as allowing students to take state exams in their native language if not fluent in English. Gibson took strong stands on education matters during her stint as minority leader, including offering a proposal counter to the governor’s on teacher and school employee pay.

Broxson hasn’t always been involved much in education debates. But he was prominent during the discussion of controversial HB 7069 in 2017, when opponents of the measure had hoped he might help them kill it. He raised concerns about the bill but ultimately didn’t vote against it.