Education board picks charter school advocate as commissioner

Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis nominates former House Speaker Richard Corcoran

By Steve Patrick - News4Jax digital managing editor, Brendan Farrington, Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A former House speaker who contemplated running for governor, then supported one of Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis' opponents in the Republican primary, has been unanimously approved as the state's new education commissioner.

The State Board of Education met Monday morning in Tallahassee to choose a new commissioner to replace Pam Stewart. With several members of the incoming governor's transition team on the board, former Speaker Richard Corcoran was considered a strong candidate before the vote.

“I look forward to working with the Board to ensure students and their families are empowered to take control of their education options, more resources are directed to Florida’s classrooms and all students have high-performing educators," Corcoran said in a statement. "Governor-elect Ron DeSantis set strong expectations for education in Florida, and I look forward to working with our state’s education stakeholders and the Florida Legislature to ensure Florida’s students have the greatest chance at lifelong success.”  

Corcoran served as speaker the past two legislative sessions. Like DeSantis, he is a supporter of school choice and charter schools. He 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. Charter schools are public schools funded by tax revenue, but they are usually run by private organizations.

Corcoran is a United States veteran and attorney who served in the Florida House of Representative for eight years. 

“Richard Corcoran has a strong leadership record. He is the best leader to ensure a smooth transition and to identify opportunities to accelerate progress along the way," State Board of Education Chair Marva Johnson said in a news release. "He brings with him a passion for providing Floridians access to the world-class education options they deserve and being a good steward of taxpayer dollars. I am confident he will be critical to keeping Florida’s education system moving in the right direction.”

When Corcoran backed Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam over the summer, DeSantis’ campaign harshly criticized Corcoran.

“Conservative principles don’t matter to career insiders, just deals and dealmaking,” DeSantis spokesman David Vasquez said at the time. “That’s why we’re not surprised to see this corrupt bargain.”

When told about the statement, Corcoran quipped, “Was it from a studio in New York?” That was a reference to DeSantis spending more time on Fox News than campaigning in Florida.

The tone between the two shifted after the primary and DeSantis praised Corcoran when naming him the choice for education commissioner.

“Richard is known as a no-nonsense reformer whose sole focus has been how best to support students, parents and teachers,” he said in a news release. “I know Richard will never stop fighting until every child in Florida has access to a world-class education.”

In October, the board of education voted to extend Stewart's contractor for a year, but the leader the state recruited from St. Johns County schools resigned after DeSantis suggested Corcoran for the job.

Prominent charter school advocates, including former Gov. Jeb Bush, supported Corcoran for the job. Some Democrats and the state's teacher's union urged the board to conduct a search for an experienced educator rather than quickly hire an "out of work politician" for the job.

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