Michelle Rhee Named to Florida Gov.-Elect’s Transition Team

By Sean Cavanagh — December 02, 2010 2 min read
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Incoming Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday named 18 members of his transition team on education, and one name jumps off the page: Michelle Rhee.

Rhee, the hard-charging former chancellor of the District of Columbia school system, was selected by the Republican governor-in-waiting to join a transition team that Scott says will help him “find innovative ways to create a new education system for a new economy.”

The former chancellor resigned from her D.C. job in October after her boss, Adrian Fenty, was defeated in the city’s Democratic mayoral primary. Speculation promptly ensued about where she would land in her next position. Some suggested she be named schools chief in New Jersey by Republican Gov. Chris Christie. Other scuttlebutt centered on her heading to Florida, to work for Scott.

Of course, Florida has an education commissioner, Eric Smith, who has won praise in education circles. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican widely respected by members of his party for his school policies, recently agreed to support Smith and a group of other state schools chiefs in their efforts to press for school choice and performance-driven evaluation.

Other members of Scott’s transition team include MaryEllen Elia, superintendent of the Hillsborough County, Fla., schools, and Frank T. Brogan, chancellor of the State University System of Florida. But Scott wasn’t bashful about promoting Rhee’s presence on the team, touting her in the opening paragraph of a statement on his website.

Rhee aggressively pushed for change as D.C. schools chancellor, including the creation of a new evaluation and performance-pay system for teachers. She fired teachers who were deemed underperforming, closed schools, and took more control over the city’s central office. Those moves made her an icon among like-mind advocates who favor taking bold steps to improve urban education—and who support challenging teachers’ unions.

But Rhee proved to be a divisive figure in the District of Columbia, and many observers pinned Fenty’s loss in the mayor’s race at least partly on the perception that his schools chancellor was out of touch with the city’s parents and others in the community.

It’s unclear how much time Rhee would spend in Florida as a member of the transition team. Her fiance, Kevin Johnson, is the mayor of Sacramento, Calif.

One of the most intriguing aspects of Rhee’s new role centers on party affiliation. The District of Columbia was a Democratic Party stronghold. Rhee will be serving as a member of a Republican governor-elect’s transition team. Scott has been a strong critic of federal stimulus spending, and has vowed to reject federal money that would bring new burdens to his state. (It remains to be seen how this stance will square with his state having won a $700 million award through the federal Race to the Top competition, a stimulus-funded program).

Scott says his transition team will help him identify “innovative ideas from the private sector, success stories from other states, cost-saving opportunities and legislative priorities that will help reduce the size of government, improve the education system in Florida and meet the workforce needs necessary to create 700,000 jobs over the next seven years.”

And he’s counting on Rhee to deliver some of those innovative ideas.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.