Richard Corcoran has long been an outspoken critic of the Florida Education Association, the state’s major teachers’ union.
And now with Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis’ decision to back the former House speaker as the successor to outgoing Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, Corcoran will be in a strong position to continue his advocacy for non-traditional education reforms that have been largely opposed by the union.
Corcoran, a former Republican lawmaker from Pasco County, starkly laid out his issues with the union when he took over the House leadership in November 2016. He said the Florida Education Association’s legal challenges of laws designed to expand programs like charter schools and publicly funded vouchers to send students to private schools was “downright evil.”
“The teachers’ union is fixated on halting innovation and competition in education,” he said in his speech. “They are literally trying to destroy the lives of a hundred thousand children, most of them are minorities and all of them are poor.”
Corcoran’s expected ascension to the education commissioner’s post next month is only part of a gathering of forces that is likely to provide momentum for more education “choices” in the next few years that will include the expansion of charter schools and the use of vouchers.
Those policies are in line with what DeSantis advocated in his campaign for governor. House Speaker Jose Oliva is a strong Corcoran ally and a longtime supporter of overhauling the education system.
And although the Senate has proportionately more Democrats than the House, similar education policies are supported by key Senate leaders, including Senate Education Committee Chairman Manny Diaz and Lakeland Sen. Kelli Stargel who will oversee education spending measures.
Adding to the momentum will be a newly configured Florida Supreme Court, which is expected to be joined by three new conservative justices early next year. The new justices will cement a solid conservative majority that is much more likely to uphold laws involving charter schools and vouchers.
Fedrick Ingram, president of the Florida Education Association, warned that many of the “choice” measures would be detrimental to traditional public schools and students.
“We put students at the center of everything we do,” Ingram said. “Politicians can’t be a champion for students and at the same time be at war with educators and public schools.”
— HE’S BAAAACK —
The newly elected Republican governor said he will ask the state Board of Education to appoint Corcoran, who used his two years as House leader to promote the use of charter schools and publicly funded vouchers to send students to private schools. Corcoran would succeed Stewart, a veteran educator who will step down on Jan. 8.
“Richard is known as a no-nonsense reformer whose sole focus has been how best to support students, parents and teachers,” DeSantis said in a statement.
DeSantis, whose term begins Jan. 8, said the selection of the new commissioner to oversee a state education system — which has 2.8 million students — “is very personal” to him and his wife Casey DeSantis, who are the parents of two toddlers.
“I know Richard will never stop fighting until every child in Florida has access to a world-class education,” he said.
DeSantis’ announcement to back Corcoran is in line with his campaign pledge to expand school “choice” options and to put more money directly into classrooms.
Marva Johnson, chairwoman of the seven-member Board of Education, said she looks forward to reviewing DeSantis’ recommended appointment for the next commissioner.
“He has the knowledge and experience to ensure continued success at the Department of Education and to protect Florida’s legacy as a national leader in education,” Johnson said of Corcoran.
Corcoran, a lawyer, secured the passage of two major education bills during his 2016-18 tenure as speaker.
In the 2017 session, Corcoran successfully advanced legislation to allow the creation of charter schools, known as “schools of hope,” near struggling public schools. Earlier this year, he backed a bill that created “hope scholarships,” allowing bullied students to use publicly funded vouchers to transfer to private schools. The legislation also expanded vouchers used by disabled students and students who are struggling readers.
Both laws are now being challenged in court.
— LET’S KEEP WORKING —
Gov. Rick Scott announced Tuesday that he will serve out his full second term under an arrangement that will lead to a five-day delay in the Republican joining the U.S. Senate next month.
The 116th Congress, which includes the U.S. House and Senate, will start on Jan. 3. But Scott, who was first elected as governor in 2010 and re-elected in 2014, is scheduled to remain as governor until Jan. 8, when DeSantis’ term begins.
Scott, who narrowly beat Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson last month, had the option of resigning early as governor, joining the U.S. Senate on Jan. 3 and elevating Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera to the office of governor, if only for a few days.
It would not be an unprecedented circumstance. It happened in January 1987, when Gov. Bob Graham resigned early to join the U.S. Senate, making Lt. Gov. Wayne Mixson the state’s 39th governor for a three-day period before Gov. Bob Martinez took office.
But Scott has opted to remain in office for his full term, his aides said Tuesday.
“When Gov. Scott was elected governor of Florida, he promised to fight for Florida families every single day of his term. Gov. Scott will remain governor until Jan. 8,” John Tupps, the governor’s communications director, said in a statement.
Tupps said U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has agreed to hold the Senate swearing-in ceremony for Scott on the afternoon of Jan. 8, which will be the day that inauguration ceremonies will be held in Tallahassee and DeSantis will become Florida’s 46th governor.
Scott will transition to his role as the state’s junior senator, joining U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in giving Florida two Republican senators in the nation’s capital for the first time since the Reconstruction era.
— SCORE ONE FOR THE BLUE TEAM —
DeSantis tapped state Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Broward County Democrat who serves as general counsel for a major disaster-recovery contractor in South Florida, to oversee the state’s response to natural and man-made emergencies.
In a press release announcing the appointment Thursday, DeSantis, a Republican who was endorsed by President Donald Trump, noted that Moskowitz has been called a “high octane incumbent” and “an effective Democratic voice in the Republican-dominated Legislature.”
“Florida has a long history of being a model for the nation in emergency preparedness and response, and with Jared at the helm, I am confident this legacy will continue,” said DeSantis.
Moskowitz will succeed Division of Emergency Management Director Wes Maul, who was appointed by outgoing Gov. Rick Scott last year. Maul sent a letter to staff members last week saying he intends to step down from the $141,000-a-year post in January.
Moskowitz told The News Service of Florida he is honored DeSantis chose him to head what the Democrat called “one of the most important departments” in state government.
The emergency management agency “especially of late is preparing and serving people in their time of need,” he said.
“I look forward to getting up to Tallahassee to meet with the folks in the department and immediately going to work so that we can prepare as best as we can for any emergency that may face the state,” Moskowitz said.
In what is likely to be rare praise for the Republican governor-elect’s slate of appointees, Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo congratulated DeSantis on his across-the-aisle selection, calling Moskowitz “the perfect choice” for the agency.
“He has proven himself to be an effective leader in the state House and his work in disaster response makes him prepared on day one to do the job,” Rizzo said in a release. “We know Rep. Moskowitz will continue to be an effective leader that looks out for all Floridians in times of emergencies, and we are proud of his appointment!”
STORY OF THE WEEK: Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis backed former House Speaker Richard Corcoran as the next state education commissioner.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Many people dream of going out on top, and with the unprecedented and undeniable success the Republican Party of Florida has had over the past four years, this is my opportunity.” — Spring Hill Republican Rep. Blaise Ingoglia announcing he would not seek a third term as state GOP chairman.