Florida education commissioner to step down

(AP Photo/Steve Cannon) (Associated Press)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, who sparred with school boards and the federal government over mask mandates during the coronavirus pandemic, announced Thursday he is resigning at the end of April.

In a statement, Corcoran, a former Florida House speaker, said he is stepping down to spend more time with his family and offered heavy praise for Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who appointed him in 2018.

“Governor DeSantis has been the governor Florida deserves — he has unquestionably been the right leader, at the right time, in the greatest state in the nation, and I thank him and the members of the State Board of Education from the bottom of my heart for the faith they have put in me," Corcoran said.

Corcoran, 56, led Florida's education department as it enforced the governor's ban on mask mandates in schools, docking school board salaries in districts that disobeyed state policy. The spat drew the attention of federal education officials. The districts eventually eased their masking rules.

DeSantis tapped Corcoran as education commissioner after Corcoran had backed his opponent in the state's 2018 Republican primary. Corcoran had considered his own run for governor at the time but instead backed DeSantis' challenger, Adam Putnam, who was considered a shoo-in for the nomination until former President Donald Trump backed DeSantis ahead of the primary.

As House speaker, Corcoran helped pass a bill that expanded school vouchers for victims of bullying and to mandate that local school districts share property taxes with charter schools.

In the statement Thursday, Corcoran highlighted his achievements as education commissioner, writing that he “has overseen historic education reforms in Florida that expanded school choice, eliminated common core, and invested record funding in students and teachers.”

DeSantis thanked Corcoran for his service.

“Richard has been a champion for students and families, and a great leader of the Department of Education,” DeSantis said. “He is driven by his principles and has never shied away from making the difficult decisions needed to improve the quality of education in Florida.”