After three years at Gov. Ron DeSantis’ side, including on the national stage during the COVID-19 pandemic, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran is tagging along with DeSantis for a final farewell tour before he leaves the administration.
Since the 2022 Session ended last week, the Republican Governor and his Education Commissioner have embarked on a cross-state tour celebrating legislative victories. As DeSantis fielded questions from reporters in Orange Park while touting teacher pay raises on Monday, one reporter asked Corcoran if he had any advice for his successor. DeSantis hasn’t named a replacement to lead the Department of Education, but Corcoran has announced his intention to step down before the end of the school year.
“If I thought we were going to be driving at about 45 miles an hour down the highway, we’re driving like 100. The new Commissioner, whoever it may be, you know, buckle your seat belt,” Corcoran said. “He’s got a lot of visions and a lot of things he wants to do.”
Corcoran repeated that DeSantis has been the best person he has ever worked for, beating out the likes of former House Speakers Daniel Webster and current U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.
“He gives you a lot of rope. He gives you a lot of ability to go out there and work with him and come up with different things. And if he likes them, he’s got your back the entire time,” Corcoran said.
Corcoran, once a possible gubernatorial candidate in 2018, initially endorsed the Republican establishment favorite Adam Putnam in that year’s Primary. However, Corcoran endorsed DeSantis when DeSantis beat Putnam and became part of his transition team after DeSantis defeated Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum.
Since then, the duo’s careers have been inextricably tied.
As Education Commissioner, Corcoran was instrumental in the Governor’s mission to return schools to normalcy early in the pandemic — including on reopening classrooms, prohibiting mask mandates and cracking down against school districts that violated the state’s masking rules. More recently, he achieved a major victory with a bill DeSantis signed last week to replace the Florida Standards Assessment — and annual standardized testing program — with progress monitoring, an initiative they say took root during the pandemic.
Before DeSantis appointed him as Education Commissioner, Corcoran served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2010 to 2018, including as House Speaker for the 2016-18 term. As Speaker, Corcoran targeted VISIT FLORIDA following its advertising contract with Miami rapper Pitbull, criticized economic corporate incentives and was a proponent of school choice.
Corcoran was also a finalist last year to replace former House Speaker John Thrasher as president of Florida State University. The Board of Governors ultimately selected Richard McCullough to succeed Thrasher.
Corcoran, who recently celebrated his 57th birthday, has been involved in the Florida political process since the 1990s. Still, DeSantis suggested Corcoran took his role as Education Commissioner seriously despite the possibility he could be eyeing another role with a public profile.
“It’s like a notch on your resume. You can take that, maybe parlay that into something, and just kind of be a placeholder. Or you can say, ‘You know what, I have an opportunity to make a difference and I’m going to take all the opportunities presented. We’re going to run through the tape and we’re just not going to stop,'” DeSantis said. “He decided that he was going to run through the tape that he was going to work really hard, and whatever we could do to make a difference, we wanted to do it.”
Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, hasn’t announced his plans for the future. As DeSantis began to reflect on Corcoran’s three years as Commissioner, Corcoran gave a nod to Tampa Bay Buccaneers Quarterback Tom Brady.
“I might pull a Brady, Governor. I might come back,” Corcoran quipped, referencing Brady’s 40-day retirement.
“If the price of getting Tom Brady to come back means you’ve got to ride off in the sunset, I’ll take that trade. We’ll take Tom back,” DeSantis replied.
Whoever DeSantis selects as his next Education Commissioner will have to oversee the statewide implementation of progress monitoring and likely legislation on teaching sexual orientation and gender identity (HB 1557), a bill critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The Governor is expected to sign that measure, which he said earlier this month would combat “transgenderism” in classrooms.