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Capital Report: Corcoran Chosen As Florida's Next Education Commissioner

House Speaker Richard Corcoran.
Florida House of Representatives
Florida House of Representatives

Republican Former Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran will make his mark on the state’s public schools as the new Commissioner of Education. Corcoran was voted into the post unanimously by the state’s Board of Education this week, eliciting strong and wide-ranging reactions from stakeholders.

During the meeting, State Board chair Marva Johnson explained how crucial the Commissioner’s role is.

“This work impacts every district in the state, and every student, at every age level, in our education system,” Johnson said. “The commissioner has the pleasure and the responsibility of directing the great work of staff members and seven statutorily-named divisions – as well as in the Office of K-20 Articulation, Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice, which includes the Office of Early Learning and K-12 Choice, and the recently-created Office of Safe Schools.”

Shortly after being voted into the post, Corcoran told reporters his priorities starting day one are that of the man who appointed him, Governor-elect Ron DeSantis.

“He’s talked about increasing opportunities in vocational industry certification and technical education, he’s talked about increasing choice options, he’s talked about improving our curriculum, he’s talked about re-evaluating standards, he’s talked about making sure that we try to get 80% of dollars into classroom,” Corcoran said.

The state board questioned Corcoran on what could be the hallmark of his educational profile – his connection to charter schools. A longtime vocal proponent of school choice, Corcoran’s wife is also the founder of a charter school and is on the board of another.

Board member Tom Grady asked about potential conflicts of interest:

“Have you ever been paid by anyone within the charter school industry for any services rendered to the charter school industry, broadly defined?”

To which Corcoran replied: “Not a single penny – indirectly, directly, any way you can possibly imagine. Never a law client – nothing, zero.”

Corcoran insists he will use his new post to boost traditional public and charter schools alike.

“I’m a product of the public school system, the traditional public school system – an advocate for the traditional public school system, and an advocate for choice,” Corcoran said.

During the period for public comment, he got an endorsement from Tallahassee Community College President Jim Murdaugh.

“Speaker Corcoran has for years demonstrated his commitment to increasing high-quality pathways for students,” Murdaugh said.

The board heard from detractors as well. Catherine Baer spoke at the meeting representing Common Ground, which she describes as a non-partisan, unpaid education advocacy group. She identified herself as a homeschooling parent, and made a last ask for a nationwide search before approving Corcoran.

“Although Mr. Corcoran is an experienced attorney and politician, he has no major experience in education or education policy. To date, he has not subscribed to the uniform system of public education required by the constitution,” Baer said.

Baer added she’d like to see a commissioner who will remove Common Core standards – something that was a point of emphasis for DeSantis during his campaign.

Fedrick Ingram, president of statewide teacher’s union the Florida Education Association. He has been a vocal critic of Corcoran’s ideas, but says collaboration is a must for the good of students.

“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.

“We’re ready and willing – and we’re extending a hand of friendship on behalf of 200,000 teachers and 2.8 million children. We need him to be a collaborator. We need him to be an entrusted person, who’s going to bring all stakeholders to the table,” Ingram said. “And if you don’t bring all the stakeholders to the table, then our children are in the balance.”

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.