SANDESTIN — Gov. Ron DeSantis says he will call for a special session if the Florida Senate does not decide the fate of suspended Okaloosa County School District Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson by May 3.

In an interview at the Gulf Power Economic Symposium on Thursday, DeSantis did not shy away from his thoughts on the Florida Supreme Court's decision to reject Jackson's petition to have it reinstate her.

DeSantis stripped the superintendent of her post less than a week after he was sworn in to office, citing “scathing” grand jury reports that alleged “dereliction of duty.” The Supreme Court ruled this week that the Florida Senate should decide whether to remove or reinstate Jackson.

"She's got no appeal," DeSantis said of Jackson on Thursday. "The Supreme Court has said her fate rests with the Florida Senate. What I would tell the Senate is to let's hear this case immediately and render a verdict. You stand up and be accountable on your vote on this. If you vote to reinstate her, you're basically saying to those families that what they went through doesn't matter and you are going to reward this person by putting her back in."

Jackson’s suspension was based, in part, on allegations that a teacher abused developmentally challenged pre-kindergarten students at an elementary school during the 2015-16 school year. Grand jury reports alleged that Jackson, among other things, failed to implement proper procedures to report abuse to the state Department of Children and Families and the Department of Education, and failed to implement a proper procedure to remove teachers who face allegations involving the health or safety of students.

Jackson’s lawyer, George Levesque, argued that the governor lacked the power to suspend Jackson because the alleged wrongdoing occurred before she was re-elected in 2016. But in Tuesday’s ruling, the justices found that Jackson’s petition “is based on a faulty premise.”

"I would predict the reason she was doing the legal stuff is because she knows once her case is presented, once people hear her testimony from some of the folks and they see the systematic failures that happened under her watch, I don't think there is going to be much doubt as to the outcome," DeSantis said.

DeSantis said he hopes Jackson's case, in addition to other school district investigations in Florida, will set a new precedent for accountability.

'We don't need that many'

DeSantis kept with the theme of education during his speech  on the last day of the Gulf Power Economic Symposium at Sandestin.

DeSantis praised Florida's collegiate system for its No. 1 ranking by U.S. News and World Report for public universities, while also discussing options he hopes to provide students searching for alternatives to a four-year traditional education.

"We have the ability to go and get a bachelor's degree and not go deep into debt because we kept tuition low," DeSantis said. "But that's not the only road for people to travel.

"The fact of the matter is you can be successful without going to a tradition four-year brick and ivy university," he said to applause. "We set a goal to make Florida No. 1 in workforce education by 2030. That involves having more traditional vocational education in our high schools. That involves apprenticeships so people can go and learn. It involves working with our state colleges so they are responsive to the needs of the economies in their local area."

Almost all the economists leading Thursday's discussion also tied in Florida's educational system with its future economic growth. Several agreed with DeSantis that vocational education needs to be a push in order for industries to thrive.

"Of course we need philosophers," Paul Hsu, founder of Hsu Educational Foundation, said of the need for more apprenticeships. "But we don't need that many."

This year the symposium, the first for Gulf Power since it was acquired by Juneau Beach-based NextEra Energy, attracted a record 638 people to the Baytowne Conference Center. The turnout is the highest in the history of the event, Gulf Power spokeswoman Kimberly Blair said.

Before leaving Thursday, DeSantis said he has been talking to President Donald Trump about establishing the Space Force Combat and Command in Florida. DeSantis said although Trump is considering the request, Colorado and Ohio are also in the running.

If DeSantis succeeds, Eglin Air Force Base could be a potential location for Space Force, he said. However, he first named Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and MacDill Air Force Base as potential sites.

"If it's in Florida, I'm happy," he said. "I'm more concerned with getting it in Florida and, if the president wants to pick a specific place, that's up to him."

DeSantis said he is also continuing to fight money for Hurricane Michael relief. Congress has yet to approve recovery funds to the counties affected by the storm.

"What Northwest Florida is even asking for is a fraction of what some of these other storms have gotten," DeSantis said. "I don't think that's fair. I'm telling our congressional delegation to make sure to get that done.

"I really think this area, Northwest Florida, is one of our jewels. I think there is a lot of potential here."