Yep, the Cabinet appointment today by incoming Governor Sanders was a big one. She’ll be replacing Asa Hutchinson’s Education secretary, Johnny Key, with a veteran of the DeSantis administration in Florida, Jacob Oliva, senior chancellor at the Florida Department of Education, overseeing the Division of Public Schools.


It seems a likely indication of the direction Sanders intends to take education in Arkansas. It’s not pretty.

Florida has gone big-time into school vouchers, more than $1 billion a year in payments to both private schools and home schoolers, with limited demonstrations of success.


UPDATE: Here’s a report on the Florida scheme to divert $1.3 billion in state revenue from real public schools to private education. Also, some $1 billion is lost in Florida through the so-called tax credit scheme by which taxpayers can designate state income taxes — normally supportive of all public services — strictly to school vouchers. This scheme is already in place on a somewhat limited, but growing, basis in Arkansas. More good commentary on the Florida vouchers — families making up to $100,000 are eligible — from Diane Ravitch.

A quick search turned up this opinion piece on Oliva, by a writer who said he’d been a generally progressive school administrator in Flagler County but had drunk DeSantis’ “reactionary Kool-Aid.” It notes that, as a high school principal, Oliva initially moved to kill a student production of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” but relented after protests, a positive sign of his willingness to listen.


But, also from that article:

You argued in court that mask mandates made no difference, which was scientifically false. They may have made no significant difference among children, because relatively few got sick. That’s a given. But children were carriers. The masks were intended to keep them from bringing death home to parents and grandparents, which they did: The governor’s happy-faced graffiti on 74,000 graves aside, Florida’s numbers are dismal. You knew that. But you lawyered it in court. If your hands were callused from carrying Corcoran’s water, the Zoom connection didn’t show it.

In Flagler you’d have never put up with anyone sanitizing history books of America’s more sinister past. Now you’re all in with the kind of nationalistic whitewashing Putin is inflicting on Russian students. Your department is endorsing a return to teaching history as selective hero-worship. “Yet what kind of history do you have if you leave out all the bad things?” the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. asked 30 years ago, when he was worried the liberals were pushing too many feel-good tomes. The answer is simple: propaganda.

In your time here you were all about inclusion. Transgender issues were just then beginning to be discussed at school board association seminars, but the local district’s focus was on acceptance by whatever means. Or am I remembering all those pastoral, collegial school board meetings incorrectly? Now your department is pushing purposefully mercenary assaults on LGBTQ students to placate the evangelical wing of your party. You are defending outright harm and second-class status to a suicide-prone segment of the students you should be protecting, and used to. Your department is throwing fuel on any fire it can.

Just last week your department pulled off that Orwellian ploy of throwing out dozens of math books from the list public schools could choose from on claims that they indoctrinated students with critical race theory or so-called social emotional learning. Four measly examples aside, the department never showed how or why the books are a problem. Here was your department, barely a few weeks ago touting transparency with school books–giving parents the right to examine every book, every page, every brochure–now hiding outright censorship behind the preposterous claim that these math books used in thousands of schools have proprietary information.

Claims that the books contain “critical race theory” are too laughable to entertain. But they do contain social-emotional learning, which has been around for years, has been proven to help raise test scores, and resonates with common sense, if not common decency.

That’s one writer’s opinion. And Arkansas already had been moving under Republican control to more vouchers and more sanitizing of school curriculum. Time will tell. But just a couple of weeks ago, Oliva weighed in on LGBT matters, warning Palm Beach schools that Florida law prevented their policies that gave students’ right to use their affirmed name, to participate in sports that align with their gender identity and to use the restroom or locker room that matches their identity. And he drew attention for dropping out of a CDC survey of youth risk behavior.

Oliva is, it’s worth noting, qualified for the job, even under the pre-Key rules. He holds a master’s degree and has more than 20 years of experience as a special education teacher principal and superintendent. The law had to be changed to count Key’s time as a senator so he could qualify for the job, which previously had required a master’s degree and 10 years of experience as a teacher.

I’ll have more biography before long.


Key sent this letter to department employees after the announcement was made:

Dear Colleagues,

This morning Governor-Elect Sanders announced her choice for the new secretary of education. Serving Governor Hutchinson and the State of Arkansas as the commissioner and secretary of education has been the highlight of my nearly 30 years of public service. It has been my honor to work with you all.

I wish the secretary-designate all success, because the success of the new secretary and the continued success of this agency means success for students and parents across Arkansas. I trust that you will strive to make our vision a reality, that every Arkansan is equitably prepared, supported, and inspired to succeed in school, career, community, and life.



UPDATE: The full Sanders news release

Governor-elect Sarah Huckabee Sanders today announced her intention to nominate Jacob Oliva, a key education leader for Governor Ron DeSantis in Florida, as the Secretary of the Department of Education, and that she intends to work in partnership with the State Board of Education to appoint him to serve in a dual role as the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“Education is the foundation for success, and, with my nominee for Secretary of Education and Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, Jacob Oliva, we are ready to transform Arkansas education with bold reforms that will empower every kid to succeed,” Sanders said. “Jacob’s proven success increasing student achievement and his experience serving in many educational roles will make him an asset to my administration. Through my Arkansas LEARNS plan, we will expand access to quality education for every kid growing up in our state, empower parents, not government bureaucrats, and prepare students for the workforce, not government dependency, so everyone has a shot at a better life right here in Arkansas.”

“Governor-elect Sanders has the right vision to unleash Arkansas education, and I’m excited to get to work on day one to enact it,” Oliva said. “Education is the key to the future, creating opportunity for all, which is why I’ve spent my career implementing successful early learning programs, empowering parents with choices, and investing in career readiness. I am ready to continue that work here in Arkansas and look forward to working with Governor-elect Sanders to build a bright future for our students.”

Jacob Oliva biography:
Jacob Oliva currently serves as senior chancellor at the Florida Department of Education, where he has been a leader implementing Governor DeSantis’ parental rights policies and bold education reforms.

He joined the Florida Department of Education as Executive Vice Chancellor of Public Schools in 2017. He became Chancellor in 2019, where he supported the teaching and learning of Florida’s over 2.8 million students in approximately 3,600 public schools, promoting student achievement and closing achievement gaps. In 2021, he was elevated to the role of Senior Chancellor, and his responsibilities expanded to include early learning, choice programs, school safety, and school accountability. Additionally, he provides statewide leadership and communication between the Florida Department of Education and Florida’s school districts. He was appointed Interim Commissioner in 2022.

After graduating from Miami-Dade County Public Schools and Flagler College, he started his educational career over two decades ago as an elementary teacher for students with special needs in Flagler County. He went on to serve as a principal at both the elementary and high school level, and as an assistant superintendent and superintendent of Flagler County Schools.

Jacob Oliva was born and raised in Miami, is Hispanic as the son of a Cuban-born father, and has lived the American dream and empowered thousands of others to do the same by expanding access to quality education. Jacob and his wife Rebecca are the parents of two children.