By Ryan Dailey
TALLAHASSEE --- State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, who has been an ally of Gov. Ron DeSantis on controversial issues such as student mask requirements and critical race theory, will step down from the post at the end of April, he announced Thursday.
Corcoran, a Republican former speaker of the Florida House, was appointed commissioner in December 2018 as DeSantis prepared to take office. He will “return to private life” to spend more time with his family, according to an announcement published on the state Department of Education website.
Corcoran, a lawyer, came into the commissioner’s job after championing issues such as school vouchers while in the Legislature — and frequently clashing with teachers’ unions.
During the past three years, he has played key roles in issues such as the education system’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including trying to bar school districts from enforcing student mask mandates.
Several names have been tossed around as Corcoran's replacement, but as far back as 3 weeks ago, State Senator Manny Diaz (R) was said to be the frontrunner to replace Corcoran and that the appointment would be made shortly after the 2022 legislative session concluded.
If Sen. Diaz is tapped to replace Corcoran, he will have to wait until the special session to decide the redistricting process concludes.
“Like the rest of the nation, Florida’s school districts have had to weather some of the greatest difficulties they have ever experienced over the past two years, and I couldn’t think of a better governor to serve,” Corcoran said in a prepared statement about the resignation.
Corcoran also led the education department during controversies about school curriculums.
Last summer, the State Board of Education approved a rule that placed strict guidelines on the way U.S. history is taught in public schools.
The rule said that teachers, for example, "may not define American history as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.”
DeSantis and Corcoran touted the rule, billing it as a way to combat critical race theory in classrooms. Critical race theory is based on the premise that racism is embedded within American society and institutions.
In a statement Thursday, the governor praised Corcoran’s record.
“Richard has been a champion for students and families, and a great leader of the Department of Education. 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. During his tenure, both in the House and at the department, our state has become an education juggernaut and national leader for innovation,” DeSantis said.
The resignation announcement listed a number of “historic education reforms” achieved under Corcoran’s tenure.
The reforms included the state’s “largest expansion to educational choice opportunities,” the Legislature appropriating record funding levels for public education and the launch of a civics and debate initiative for middle and high school students.
The department did not give information on a possible replacement for Corcoran. The State Board of Education will make an appointment, though DeSantis — who appoints state board members — likely will play an important role in the choice.
Corcoran last year applied to become president of Florida State University but did not make a final group of candidates. He drew opposition from faculty members, who disputed his qualifications for the job. The university’s Board of Trustees ultimately chose Richard McCullough, a vice provost for research at Harvard, to become president.
--- News Service Executive Editor Jim Saunders contributed to this report as did The Floridian Publisher Javier Manjarres