Betty Castor All for Traditional Public Education Funding
Betty Castor thinks it’s ironic that one of the arguments put forward to move Florida’s education commissioner from an elected post to a post appointed by the State Board of Education more than two decades ago was that ‘a “professional” educator was needed in this role (which happened in 2003, following a constitutional amendment of 1998).
“I was an educator when I was an education commissioner and now we have had several commissioners since that time who were not what I would call ‘professional’ educators, but politicians. And policy makers, ”she said in an interview with Spectrum Bay News 9 from her condominium on Bayshore Boulevard in South Tampa earlier this month. “So that argument just doesn’t hold water. “
The current Education Commissioner is Richard Corcoran, who had no previous education background but was the outgoing Speaker of the House when Gov. Ron DeSantis’s Board of Trustees selected him to head the department in 2019 .
Castor has had a career in public service, largely focused on public education. She maintains that it is best for the person who heads the state’s education department to come out and hear the public before taking office.
“When you have to go out like I did for this office, you have to talk to the teachers. You have to talk to parents. You have to allow them to have a say in the system. I think today it’s a closed system, ”she said. “Even though we elected school boards, the bylaws are now set by Tallahassee.”
Castor, 79, is a pioneer in local politics. In 1972, she became the first woman elected to the Hillsborough County Commission, defeating 10 other opponents in a savage Democratic primary election. In recounting this campaign, one of the biggest issues she heard that year was what was to happen to her children, aged 2, 4 and 6 at the time.
“Well, they went pretty well,” she jokes.
Indeed, they did.
Castor’s eldest daughter, Kathy, has represented Hillsborough County in Congress since 2006; Her daughter Karen (Castor Dental) is a former state representative who has been a member of the Orange County School Board since 2018, and her son Frank has served as a judge in Palm Beach County since 2006.
Castor also remains a strong supporter of passing the Equal Rights Amendment, as she did when she served in the Florida State Senate in 1977, when the measure ran out by two. votes to be adopted in this room.
“I think women should be mentioned high in the constitution of this country,” she said. “There is no doubt that the women have made gains. We see it all around us, but we can always change any of these existing laws. If women are enshrined in the Constitution as equal partners in this government that we have, then that cannot be changed. It is a constitutional mandate. And I think that’s a message to all women – current women and young women and coming women – yes, they are equal in the eyes of this country and in this Constitution.
(According to the Constitution, ERA was to be ratified by 38 states in the 1970s. Three states were missing, but in recent years Illinois, Virginia, and Nevada ratified it. Last year, Congress voted to remove the 1982 deadline, but questions remain whether erasing the deadline is constitutional and whether states that ratified in the 1970s can still be counted).
From 1994 to 1999, Castor was the first female president of USF in Tampa. Under his leadership, the student body grew and the football program was implemented. But Castor says that while she has a legacy of her tenure, she considers her drive to beautify the campus important, and cites planting trees, berms, and building the MLK Plaza in the center of the campus as part of that. effort.
Other highlights include the construction of the College of Education, new student housing, and the start of the physiotherapy program.
In 2004, Castor won a contested Democratic primary race for the United States Senate, defeating Broward County Congressman Peter Deutsch and Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas. She then lost in an intense battle against Republican Mel Martinez by 1.1 percent in the general election.
In both competitions, Castor’s management of Sami Al-Arian has become a hot political issue. Al-Arian was a professor at USF when Castor put him on paid leave in 1996 after a Palestinian think tank he founded was called a front for terrorists by the FBI. In 2003, he was charged with material support for terrorism. He was eventually deported to Turkey in 2015.
“I think you can take anyone’s quarry and mine something and use it,” Castor said, pondering the question. “So I didn’t think it was fair. In retrospect, she attributes her small loss to the underperformance of traditional Democratic strongholds in Miami-Dade and Orange counties.
A year before the end of his first term, Martinez surprised Florida politicians by announcing he was stepping down from his seat, simply saying it was “time to go back to Florida and to my family.”
“Disappointing” is Castor’s reaction to this.
“You’ve been in this race for over a year. You work hard and you finally get there – it seems to me that you should have understood before you entered this competition that maybe that is not what you do, ”she says.
But let’s go back to 2021. Castor remains active. She is currently the chair of the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee that oversees spending related to the half-cent sales tax in the Hillsborough County School District.