Florida’s Department of Education will have a new Commissioner at the helm in Republican former House Speaker Richard Corcoran.
Corcoran fielded questions from the State Board of Education before being voted in unanimously Monday. He was recommended to the State Board by Governor-Elect Ron DeSantis. Corcoran says his priorities out of the gate mirror those of the man about to move into the Governor’s Mansion.
“I think it's what's top of Gov. DeSantis' agenda – and his agenda has been very clear,” Corcoran said. “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.”
After a public comment section that was a fairly even split of supporters and detractors, Corcoran faced some straightforward questions from the Board.
Board member Tom Grady asked Corcoran, who has long been an advocate for school choice in the state, 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 was also asked about his wife’s connection to charters – being the founder of one and on the board of another. The State Board votes on appeals when charters are denied in their home districts. Corcoran says he would go by the book if a situation arose concerning a school his wife works with.
“We would follow all absolute legal requirements that that would bring about,” Corcoran told reporters.
Fedrick Ingram, Florida Education Association President and one of Corcoran’s more vocal critics, says he is disappointed in the State Board for its pick.
“That’s what teachers want – they want to teach, they want to make sure they are respected in the classroom, because they do the hard work. And so, when you pick a Commissioner of Education you should absolutely involve the voice of those folks,” Ingram said. “And that’s why we at FEA are here and we’re saying we are disappointed in the State Board. But we will work with Commissioner Corcoran, and we will work to ensure student success for our students in traditional public schools.”
Corcoran calls outgoing Commissioner Pam Stewart a “good friend and a good counselor,” saying over the next 30 days he will discuss with Stewart whether there will be changes to the Department’s Legislative Budget Request for the coming session.