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Reactions Run The Gamut As Corcoran Appointed Education Commissioner

From the left Appropriations Chairs Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Lutz, and Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, begin the compromise process as full conference committee met June 11, 2015, while finalizing key portions of the state's budget within Criminal and Civil Just
Mark Foley
Florida House of Representatives

Governor-elect Ron DeSantis has chosen fellow Republican and Former Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran to head the State Department of Education. Florida’s Board of Education will vote on whether or not Corcoran gets the job later this month.

As the Board prepares to vote in the next Commissioner of Education, strong opinions of support and resistance surround Corcoran’s appointment.

Governor-elect DeSantis this week announced his education transition team. It features Erika Donalds, a former Collier County School Board member. A proponent of school choice, Donalds is one of those in Corcoran’s corner who says Corcoran will bring needed change.

“Richard Corcoran is, as Ron DeSantis said in his release yesterday, a no-nonsense reformer,” Donalds said. “He does not give deference to the current system – his sole priority is what is best for children, and students and their families — how to get them the best educational options that are going to meet their needs.”

Donalds points to Corcoran’s leadership style in outlining why she feels he can get the job done.

“I believe that Richard is looking forward to ultimately what is the right education system that is going to benefit all students. And then he’s going to map out a plan for us to get there, and what needs to be changed, adjusted, improved, eliminated, in order for us to meet the needs of every single student,” Donalds said.

Some public education advocates around the state have been sounding off with a decidedly different tone. The League of Women Voters is petitioning the State Board to perform a national search for the new Commissioner, writing the Board has a “constitutional responsibility” to do so.

Fedrick Ingram is president of statewide teacher’s union, the Florida Education Association. For the same reasons choice proponents laud Corcoran as the right pick – Ingram says he would be of detriment to public education.

“Richard Corcoran has been one of those people who has squarely put it in his sights to advance the position of charter schools and vouchers, and things that promote something other than what we know as public education,” Ingram said.

Ingram cites massive education bills passed in the last two Legislative Sessions under Corcoran’s leadership that he says changed things for the worse.

“Under his tenure, 7069 – the biggest expansion of charter schools that we’ve seen in the State of Florida’s history,” Ingram said. “This is not a person who has been public education friendly, this is not a person who wants to see good public schools expanded in a way that is going to mean success for our kids.”

Ingram is among those calling for a nationwide search for candidates. Democratic Senator Bill Montford has been a voice in Florida education for decades, and currently helms the state’s Association of District School Superintendents. His approach to a potential Commissioner Corcoran sounds more like cautious optimism.

“It’s clear that under his administration as Speaker where his priorities were, and that’s school choice. I have no problem with that,” Montford said. “But we do need an equal, level playing field.”

Montford says he understands the viewpoints of those like Ingram, who feel traditional public schools are under attack.

“Many of us supported charter schools, this was 1996. The idea was for a charter schools to go into a struggling school, where the traditional approach has not worked. I said that’s fine, if we can find somebody – a group – with different ideas, less restrictions that works, that’s fine,” Montford said. “However, what did it turn into in many cases is a money-making proposition. And that’s not what those of us back in the 90’s supported.”

Montford doesn’t voice opposition to Corcoran taking the post. The Senator says he just wants traditional public and charter schools to play by the same set of rules.

“If the speaker turns out to be our commissioner, then we ask that he treat traditional public schools as well as we have in the past with charter schools and other schools,” Montford said.

The State Board of Education will vote on Corcoran’s recommendation December 17.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.