Another Florida Legislative Session, Another Ethics Problem For a Republican Cashing in on Education Dollars

Powerful House education chair Rep. Marlene O’Toole (Lady Lakes-The Villages) complemented education commissioner Pam Stewart last week for her handling of FSA testing drama. She later counseled fellow lawmakers to not over react to complaints about it.  Florida republican legislators don’t like to listen to parents who don’t buy in to their education policy agenda.

Speaking of buying in, its pretty clear that O’Toole is the latest state republican pol to be part of the state’s pay-to-play education dollars transactions. Writes Michael Van Sickler for the Miami Herald:

The education chair of the Florida House violated state law when she voted on the budget and a mortgage settlement in 2013 without disclosing a personal conflict, according to a measure approved Friday by the Florida Commission on Ethics.

Rep. Marlene O’Toole, R-Lady Lakes (which is part of the Villages), didn’t disclose her dual role as chief operating officer of a non-profit called “Take Stock in Children” and vice chair of the House education appropriations committee that approved $6 million for the Miami nonprofit in the 2013-14 budget.

Take Stock in Children was also awarded an additional $9.1 million from the state’s $200 million mortgage settlement. O’Toole voted on both matters, but in neither case did she disclose that she was paid $50,000 a year by the non-profit.

Unlike everyone else on Take Stock in Children’s management page O’Toole doesn’t have a job title. Among what TSIC lists as corporate sponsors in the Florida Lottery and the Florida Department of Education.

There really aren’t any teeth in the state’s ethic rules:

Other public officers who violate that section of Florida law can be impeached, suspended, fined or publicly reprimanded.

Florida law doesn’t prohibit a state public officer from voting on a measure that inures to their special private gain but they are required to file a memorandum disclosing the nature of their interest in the measure as a public record filed no later than 15 days after the vote occurred.


Will Florida republicans continue to look the other way when one of their own is cashing-in on taxpayers’ education dollars? Former speaker Ray Sansom was drummed out of the House and even prosecuted, largely for accepting a cushy well-compensated job with a community college after earmarking funds for it. With other republican legislators having close ties to the charter school industry serving as chair of education committees, a skeptical Florida believes that nothing will come of this and the practice will continue.

About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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