Richard Corcoran likely education chief, former top lawmaker says

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TALLAHASSEE – Former Senate President Don Gaetz said Monday that Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis will likely choose Richard Corcoran, a former House Speaker who pushed through a series of new scholarship programs that upset teachers unions and traditional public school administrators, as the new Florida Education Commissioner.

Although the power to appoint the commissioner officially lies with the seven-member Board of Education, that panel is in turn appointed by the governor. Gaetz said he would expect the board to defer to DeSantis.

“The Board of Education works for the governor, and we have a new governor,” Gaetz, a Niceville Republican, told the Sentinel in an interview. “I would expect that the governor would recommend Richard Corcoran to the board and the board would endorse him.”

If Corcoran assumes the role, it would overturn the board’s decision in October to offer the current commissioner, Pam Stewart, another year in the job.

Corcoran, 53, originally prepared to run in the Republican primary for governor against DeSantis earlier this year. But when he opted against his own campaign, he endorsed DeSantis’ other primary opponent, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

The Florida Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state, is already voicing its opposition to the appointment.

“Florida’s students need a leader of our public education system who knows public schools, who understand how our students learn & the needs of education staff,” the FEA posted on Twitter. “They deserve a highly qualified, highly credentialed professional who supports public education. StopCorcoran

Corcoran has a reputation for making hardline statements but also for cutting deals. He pushed through the Schools of Hope program in 2017 that allows charter school operators to compete directly with failing public schools – something decried by teachers unions and school districts in populous counties who saw it as a way of eroding funding for schools already struggling.

“Those who are satisfied with the education system in Florida as it is have every reason to be deeply concerned about Richard Corcoran, because he is dissatisfied with the education system when it doesn’t serve students and it doesn’t serve parents,” Gaetz said. “The education establishment . . . ought to be concerned because Richard Corcoran is a guy who will disrupt the status quo and search for better more innovative answers.”

DeSantis is poised to be sworn in as governor on Jan. 8. No official announcement on education commissioner has been made.