Joe Henderson: Richard Corcoran’s impact on Florida education was immense
Richard Corcoran. Image via AP.

Corcoran had more impact on how Florida educates its students than anyone since Jeb Bush.

While we were all drinking from the culture war firehose last week, the story of Richard Corcoran leaving as Florida’s Education Commissioner quickly came and went. There was just too much other stuff going on to give that news its proper due.

Corcoran had more impact on how Florida educates its students than anyone since Jeb Bush. During his time as Speaker of the House, Corcoran helped orchestrate a major expansion of charter schools; you can decide how good that was.

In 2019, he pushed through a major overhaul of how the state funds its colleges and universities. Corcoran was a big advocate for workforce education and what used to be called community colleges.

Those were good things.

But he was also confrontational when school districts balked at his edicts. That was particularly true on mandatory masks and other measures used to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

Critics bristled at his sometimes autocratic style, but Corcoran’s self-belief never wavered. And when it came time to get what he wanted, he could kneecap with the best of them.

Corcoran was always up for a fight. He is smart, tough and completely confident.

He believed strongly that Florida’s children, particularly those in the poorest areas, weren’t getting the education they deserved to break a cycle of poverty. That was the impetus behind his push for charters and school vouchers.

Corcoran also was a water-carrier for the Gov. Ron DeSantis-supported bill aiming to stop “woke” indoctrination. That’s the law designed to make parents afraid that schools were, as DeSantis said, “teaching kids to hate our country or to hate each other.”

“Our classrooms, students, and even teachers are under constant threat by critical race theory advocates who are attempting to manipulate classroom content into a means to impose one’s values on students,” Corcoran said.

Well, for about the ten-millionth time, that was a law in search of a headline. Florida schools don’t teach critical race theory.

There is no “constant threat” of that in the classroom. The only constant threat to education these days comes from Tallahassee.

And as far as “manipulating classroom content,” well, isn’t that what Corcoran’s term as education czar was all about?

Republican state Sen. Manny Diaz seems the most likely person to replace Corcoran. Diaz was the Senate co-sponsor of the anti-woke bill. He is also a fierce DeSantis ally, which is mandatory for any Republican state lawmaker with ambition. That means things aren’t likely to change much.

Meanwhile, Corcoran will wrap things up some time in April and then transition to private life. He said he might practice law or try some other ventures. He will do so content in his mind that his mission to revolutionize Florida education was successful.

You can argue with that, but know this: He won’t care.

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

One comment

  • Andrew Finn

    March 16, 2022 at 5:18 pm

    So, Corcoran is leaving his position as Florida’s Education Commissioner. A one-word reaction would be —— HOORAY !!!!!! ____ Goodbye and good riddance to one of Emperor DeSantis’ “Ass Kisser Club” members.

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