Florida official tapped to lead Arkansas education agency

Jacob Oliva (Florida Department of Education/Twitter)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Incoming Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday named a top Florida schools official as her pick to lead the state’s education agency, the latest signal of the direction of the Republican’s nascent administration.

Sanders tapped Jacob Oliva, a senior chancellor at the Florida Department of Education, to serve as secretary of the Arkansas Department of Education. She said she’ll also seek to have the State Board of Education appoint Oliva as the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Sanders touted Oliva’s “proven success increasing student achievement” and said in a statement that “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.”

The appointment suggests Sanders may emulate in Arkansas the education agenda of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a leading contender of the GOP presidential nomination in 2024. Sanders’ announcement cited Oliva’s work implementing “DeSantis’ parental rights policies and bold education reforms.”

Florida came under a harsh spotlight this year after the passage of a new law forbidding lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, as well as material that is not deemed age-appropriate.

Critics, who call the rule the “Don’t Say Gay” law, have argued that it marginalizes LGBTQ people and said the legislation’s vague language could stifle classroom discussions. The law also establishes an enforcement mechanism that invites parents to file lawsuits against districts over material deemed inappropriate.

Sanders earlier this month announced Capt. Mike Hagar, a 26-year veteran of the State Police, as her nominee for secretary of public safety. In other recent appointments, Sanders has named Kristi Putnam as the state’s new Department of Human Services secretary and former Entergy Arkansas CEO Hugh McDonald as Department of Commerce secretary.