Florida education deserves better than Richard Corcoran, home county teachers union leader says

United School Employees of Pasco president Don Peace says the commissioner should be an educator.
United School Employees of Pasco president Don Peace offers a critique of a district plan to have teachers work longer hours for more money.  [USEP YouTube video]
United School Employees of Pasco president Don Peace offers a critique of a district plan to have teachers work longer hours for more money. [USEP YouTube video]
Published December 7

Former Pasco County lawmaker Richard Corcoran is winning praise from the likes of Jeb Bush for his nomination to become Florida's next education commissioner.

The leader of Pasco's public school employees association is not joining in the applause.

Calling Corcoran an "out of office politician," United School Employees of Pasco president Don Peace said his appointment to the state's top education job would be a "most devastating blow" to the system.

In an open letter to the Tampa Bay Times, Peace called on the incoming governor and State Board of Education to consider an educator to take the helm of the state department — not someone who has pushed initiatives such as decertifying teacher unions, granting private school scholarships to students who claim they've been bullied, and creating a new set of charter schools targeting low-income neighborhoods.

"Surely, the person put in charge of this tremendous responsibility should be required to have experience in the profession?" Peace wrote. "You wouldn't take your broken-down vehicle to a butcher because he has
a lot of good ideas on how to fix it, would you? Of course not. Neither should we settle for less when it comes to providing a quality education to our students – the future leaders of our state and nation."

Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis announced Thursday he would like to see Corcoran in the commissioner's chair. The board has a conference call meeting scheduled for 10 a.m. Dec. 17, although the agenda has not yet been announced.

DeSantis has named two board members — Marva Johnson and Andy Tuck — to his education transition team, and another — Ben Gibson — as transition general counsel. None have responded to email queries as to whether they will accept DeSantis' recommendation, or conduct a search as some groups have requested.

If Corcoran is approved, he would not be the first non-educator politician to hold the commissioner's job. Among the more recent examples are Charlie Crist (lawyer) and Tom Gallagher (insurance salesman).

Read on for Peace's full letter:

"Governor-elect DeSantis is intent upon placing out-of-office politician Richard Corcoran as the Commissioner of the Florida Department of Education. If allowed, this would be a most devastating blow to Public Education. Corcoran, with no resistance from the FL House, and surprising little challenge from the Senate, ran roughshod through Public Education last year, getting several extremely damaging Education related bills passed, including CS/HB 7069, which was intended to be the death blow not only to Public Ed, but specifically to Teacher Unions, by targeting the density of the employees they represent.

"Former Senate leader Don Gaetz probably said it best when he stated that Corcoran could become "the most disruptive education reformer in our state's history." Last year, Corcoran advocated for and got the new charter school model "Schools of Hope," which allows outside providers, often with no proven background, to set up schools in communities where district schools have failed – usually in impoverished areas where the lack of proper local education funding has prevented the proper support to be put in place. He also championed the "Best & Brightest" teacher bonus plan, based in part on teachers ACT or SAT scores from their high school years. This was put in place to "attract and retain" high quality teachers, even though it erodes local funding that could be negotiated through the districts and is absolutely no reflection on how an individual will turn out years later. He also promoted and got tax credit scholarships allowing bullied children to be funded to attend charter schools while not addressing the bully at all. It's kind of like you being robbed in your home and then being offered money
to move to a different neighborhood while not dealing with the robber.

"The two million plus students, approximately 90%, in Florida's Public schools, their parents, educators and the tax payers of this great state deserve better. We have a constitutional obligation to Public Education and need to fund the third largest public education system in the US appropriately. We need someone who understands the profession and is dedicated to restoring Florida to national prominence in education. It is evident by the recent rash of approved education related referendums passed that the voters support our schools, teachers and programs, and are willing to pay for this to happen. Surely, the person put in charge of this tremendous responsibility should be required to have experience in the profession? You wouldn't take your broken-down vehicle to a butcher because he has a lot of good ideas on how to fix it, would you? Of course not. Neither should we settle for less when it comes to providing a quality education to our students – the future leaders of our state and nation.

"Please contact the Governor-elect and tell him we need an educator to lead our DOE. We should not be in a hurry when it comes to the future of our children."

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