Florida Breaking Down Walls Between K-12, Higher Ed.

By Alan Richard — February 13, 2002 10 min read
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Even here in Florida, most people don’t know the state’s secretary of education, Jim Horne. But they should.

Jim Horne

Position: Florida secretary of education
Age: 43
Education: Florida State University, bachelor’s degree in accounting, 1980. Certified Public Accountant.
Career: Served as a Florida state senator, 1994-2001. Has been a partner in several accounting firms, including Duval, Horne & Company, and James W. Horne and Associates.
Recent honors: Commencement speaker, Florida State University, December 2001. Named second most important senator in Florida by The Miami Herald, May 2000. “Legislator of the year” awards from many groups including Florida School Boards Association, Florida Pediatrics Society, Florida Sheriffs Association.
Personal: From Orange Park, Fla.; married, four children. Is said to hold state record for most interceptions thrown in a Florida high school football game.

Hired last summer by Gov. Jeb Bush, the silver-haired former legislator from outside Jacksonville is the engineer behind one of the nation’s most ambitious state overhauls of education.

His job is to link all types of education, from elementary schools to state universities, into a seamless system. Then, as the state’s new chief schools officer, Mr. Horne must oversee it all.

“We’re starting more or less from scratch,” Mr. Horne said recently, in a conference room here on the campus of the University of West Florida, just one of the many schools now under his watch.

If his vision carries the day, high schools and community colleges will work more closely together, student performance at universities will be more closely monitored, and the teaching profession will get a top-down review.

The changes sought in Florida have some precedents in other states. The New York state board of regents has long overseen both precollegiate and higher education, as well as public museums and the licensure of many professionals. Other states, including Georgia and Maryland, have taken steps to link education from the school to university level.

But Florida wants to go beyond any other state to wed the two systems, and its effort is the only one that was adopted by a state referendum.

Mr. Horne earns $225,000 a year for his work, placing the newcomer to education among the highest-paid leaders in the field. Some big-city superintendents make more, but Mr. Horne earns about $75,000 more annually than U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, for instance, and is the nation’s highest-paid state education chief.

Excited as Mr. Horne may be about his work, however, critics of the state’s switch to a K-20 system say it just won’t work—at least not as the Republican-controlled legislature and Gov. Bush envision. And they are doing their best to stop the change.

U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, a Democrat and a former governor of the state, has collected more than 40,000 signatures in his drive to overturn the new system. He insists that Florida voters who approved a “seamless” K-20 system in a 1998 referendum never sought the kinds of changes Mr. Horne and Gov. Bush support and are trying to implement.

The new system ignores what education really needs, the senator argues: higher teacher salaries, smaller school and class sizes, better training for educators, and more money invested in public schools.

“I just think it was an incorrect analysis of the problem, and therefore a misguided prescription,” Sen. Graham said in an interview. “The public schools are not going to get the focus of attention the public anticipated when people voted for the 1998 constitutional amendment.”

Building a Foundation

When Gov. Bush appointed Mr. Horne last July to build the system, he knew what he was getting in his new secretary of education: not an educator, but a man he could trust, with similar political views and experience in budgeting and lawmaking.

“Jim Horne turns out to be truly and uniquely qualified. It was a lovely fit for his background, capability, and interest,” said Philip Handy, who managed two political campaigns for Gov. Bush and now chairs the new state education board to which Mr. Horne reports.

After voters approved the K-20 idea in the referendum, GOP legislative leaders—including Mr. Horne, who was the chairman of the Senate appropriations committee—considered it a mandate for thorough change.

The legislature voted in 2000 to form a powerful new, seven-member state education board that would replace the current board—which is the governor’s Cabinet. The new board, appointed last year, currently oversees only the K-20 changes. Its members are appointed by the governor. The old board retains its powers for now, but will disband later this year.

In related action, the legislature abolished the governing board for community colleges and Florida’s board of regents, which oversaw all the state universities. Boards of trustees at each university and community college, appointed by the governor, now can make more decisions on their own.

Mr. Horne, who turned 43 in January, may be new to the field, but he believes the governor hired the right man to lead Florida’s new school system. “How many people get paid to redefine the profession? The opportunity I’ve been given, people die for,” he said.

Mr. Horne, who lives near Jacksonville with his wife and four children, has already merged several pieces of the state’s education puzzle.

The secretary has combined the K-12 school budget with those of the community colleges and state universities into a single $12.8 billion plan. He also led a team of state workers charged with combing through 5,000 pages of regulations to match them with the new law. “No one had ever seen or knew what a K-20 budget would look like,” he said.

Next Steps

What comes next is actually assembling the new system.

At its regular meeting here last month, Mr. Horne asked the new state education board to set its priorities. The list of pressing issues includes teacher quality, student achievement and graduation rates, the academic gap between minority and white students, and adoption of academic standards for higher education.

In an interview after the session, Mr. Horne sketched out what the public and educators here can expect under his leadership as he tries to address the board’s priorities.

First, he wants to come up with a way for Florida to monitor how students perform academically at universities and community colleges. “A reporting system to me is a natural thing,” he said.

He wants high schools and community colleges to work as partners and to improve job training across the state, encouraging more dual enrollment. If students want training in high school, he said, why not offer it?

Mr. Horne said the state education department in Tallahassee, which for now still is managed by the elected commissioner of education and the governor’s Cabinet, will be revamped, with a smaller staff. “We’re going to change its focus,” he said.

He also wants to expand the use of technology, saying Florida should have teacher training and other services available 24 hours a day. “I can’t today email every teacher in Florida. By next year, I’ll be able to do that,” the secretary added.

And he aims to restructure the teaching profession. “You could see us having a multi-tiered system, associate teacher, teacher, master teacher,” the secretary said. A state plan to provide analysis of individual student test results also could be used to monitor teaching quality, he said. “Now we will be able to show curriculum effectiveness, teacher effectiveness.”

Mr. Handy, chairman of the new state education board, said changes in teacher salaries could mean “pay for performance, incentive pay” or other methods.

A New Fight Begins

Not everybody embrace’s Mr. Horne’s vision for the future.

Opponents of Florida’s K-20 changeover say it all happened too fast. For starters, in just a matter of months, a new law was drafted and signed in 2000 that, among other changes, severed the state’s early childhood system from the state education department, turning control of preschools over to the state’s welfare-to-work agency. The results have confounded some early childhood providers, public and private, across the state. (Quality Counts 2002: Building Blocks for Success, Jan. 10, 2002.)

Maureen S. Dinnen, the president of the Florida Education Association teachers’ union, said educators didn’t know what had hit them. A teacher for 34 years in Fort Lauderdale, she contends that the state’s new attention to education should result in tremendous new resources, and better results for Florida students. But in her view, it won’t.

“Change for the sake of change is not always good,” she said.

She argues that Florida never has done all that it could to provide every student a good education. “We know what makes public school work: a quality teacher, a reasonable class and school size, buildings not falling apart,” Ms. Dinnen said. “I just would like somebody in the governor’s office to give me the year Florida was doing all this proper funding, that we tried and it didn’t work.”

She also wonders why educators aren’t a bigger part of the K-20 changeover. As evidence, she cites the makeup of the seven-member education board: four business persons, a college president, a principal, and a charter school founder.

“It’s being done by people who are in the political or business realm,” she said. “You would not revamp the whole public health care system of Florida without having doctors play a large part.”

Mr. Graham, the U.S. senator, is so concerned that he collected signatures himself at last fall’s Florida-Florida State football game, hoping to force lawmakers to amend the constitution again, overturning the K-20 law. He is threatening to take his case to court.

The senator’s amendment would allow universities to keep their new boards of trustees, provided that educators are members. He also would re-establish a statewide board to oversee the university system.

The legislature, he argues, has become too involved and powerful. For example, he said lawmakers have approved a medical university for Florida State University, and threatened to cut state funding from a private college when its trustees hired a president not to lawmakers’ liking.

“Individual boards of trustees are now the only barrier between the overtly political legislature” and higher education, he added.

Defending the New Way

Not everyone sees the changes as purely political or unfriendly to education. Mr. Handy, the education board chairman who also led a state committee that recommended many of the K-20 changes, said a new generation of leaders is addressing problems left unsolved by others.

“The superintendents tell us the schools of education are turning out teachers that are not ready to teach. The presidents of the community colleges tell us the schools are turning out students who are not ready for college,” he said. “A teacher is more likely to get a better result for her and her students where we’re headed, than where we were.”

University of West Florida president Morris Marx told the new state board during its meeting here that he was thrilled to have a board of local trustees. “A board of people who live in this region, whose futures are here, is very important,” he said. “That’s difficult with a statewide board.”

T. Willard Fair of Miami, a leading African-American school-choice advocate and co- founder of Florida’s first charter school with Gov. Bush, gave weight to the reforms during the two-day state board meeting here.

Commenting on the entire education package that is unfolding in Florida—from A-F grades that each school now gets, to the current K-20 restructuring, Mr. Fair said: “In my judgement, this is the most significant piece of public policy since Brown v. Board.”

The link between K-12 schools and colleges “has a logic to it,” added Michael D. Usdan, a senior fellow at the nonprofit Institute for Educational Leadership in Washington.

“It’s a very important kind of move, and I think in some ways orders the future,” said Mr. Usdan, who testified two years ago before the Florida legislature as it debated how to move forward on its new system.

But the survival of the ongoing efforts depends much on politics, he added. Gov. Bush faces re-election this fall, and former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno is one of his Democratic opponents.

Florida’s new education secretary, for now, is thrilled to be driving the kind of change he believes will long outlast his turn at the wheel. “The stars are lining up as the tools are coming in,” Mr. Horne said. “It’s a wonderful time to be in education.”

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A version of this article appeared in the February 13, 2002 edition of Education Week as Florida Breaking Down Walls Between K-12, Higher Ed.


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