Richard Cor­co­ran wrong for pub­lic schools, right for GOP

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - Opinion -

Richard Cor­co­ran for state ed­u­ca­tion com­mis­sioner? Sure. Why not make Tal­la­has­see’s hos­til­ity to pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion even more ap­par­ent?

Gov.-elect Ron De­San­tis said Thurs­day that he wants the former House speaker to suc­ceed Pam Ste­wart, who re­signed Tues­day be­cause of “re­cent elec­tion re­sults and announcements.” She meant the ru­mors that De­San­tis wants some­one else.

It’s not clear, how­ever, if the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion agrees that Cor­co­ran should take over. The seven-mem­ber board ac­tu­ally hires the com­mis­sioner. The board has sched­uled a meet­ing by con­fer­ence call for Dec. 17, though no agenda has been made pub­lic.

In prac­ti­cal terms, the board might as well hire Cor­co­ran. The gov­er­nor ap­points the board. Vot­ers changed the Flor­ida Con­sti­tu­tion to abol­ish the elected com­mis­sioner and ac­knowl­edge that the gov­er­nor and Leg­is­la­ture cre­ate ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy.

And De­San­tis has made clear that his pri­or­ity is not tra­di­tional pub­lic schools, even though they ed­u­cate 90 per­cent of stu­dents in the pub­lic sys­tem. Dur­ing his cam­paign, he didn’t visit pub­lic schools. He vis­ited a pri­vate Jewish school and touted cor­po­rate tax vouch­ers. A Wall Street Jour­nal anal­y­sis con­cluded that De­San­tis’ sup­port for vouch­ers pulled enough African-Amer­i­can vot­ers from An­drew Gil­lum to tip the elec­tion.

In Cor­co­ran, De­San­tis has an ed­u­ca­tion soul­mate. Last year, Cor­co­ran lev­er­aged his power as speaker to push through leg­is­la­tion that for the first time gave char­ter schools — which use pub­lic money but may be pri­vately oper­ated — some of the prop­erty tax rev­enue that school dis­tricts use for con­struc­tion and main­te­nance. When Flor­ida al­lowed char­ter schools in the mid-1990s, oper­a­tors said they never would need such money.

House Bill 7069, which leg­is­la­tors hardly got to read, did much more. It gave char­ter com­pa­nies $200 mil­lion to build “schools of hope” near low-per­form­ing pub­lic schools but with no guar­an­tee that the char­ters would take all the stu­dents. The bill made it harder for school dis­tricts to use fed­eral money de­signed to help those same strug­gling stu­dents.

Former Palm Beach County Su­per­in­ten­dent Robert Avossa called Cor­co­ran’s cre­ation “the sin­gle largest piece of leg­is­la­tion to dis­man­tle pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion that I’ve ever seen.” True, but HB 7069 sim­ply ex­tended the at­tack on pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion by Repub­li­cans since they took con­trol in Tal­la­has­see two decades ago.

There’s prece­dent for gu­ber­na­to­rial strong-arm­ing. Through the board, Char­lie Crist ran off former Jeb Bush acolyte John Winn, though he came back later as in­terim com­mis­sioner. Rick Scott then ran off Eric Smith.

The bar also isn’t high. The first ap­pointed com­mis­sioner, Jim Horne, quit to cam­paign for the gam­bling amend­ment that al­lowed slot ma­chines in Broward and Mi­ami-Dade Coun­ties. He now lob­bies for char­ter schools.

More re­cently, one com­mis­sioner lasted just one year after botch­ing the roll­out of a new school grad­ing sys­tem. An­other re­signed after re­ports that, as In­di­ana’s ed­u­ca­tion com­mis­sioner, he or­dered the char­ter school run by a donor to get an A grade rather than the C it de­served. The man had lost his bid for re­elec­tion, so Flor­ida was get­ting him on the re­bound any­way.

Cor­co­ran fits the mold of other so­called “school choice” Repub­li­cans by see­ing no con­flict when his poli­cies align with per­sonal in­ter­ests. In 2016, about to be­come speaker, Cor­co­ran fa­vored leg­is­la­tion that al­lowed char­ters eas­ier ac­cess to con­struc­tion money. At the time, a char­ter school that Cor­co­ran’s wife founded wanted to ex­pand. The bill made it eas­ier.

Un­der Repub­li­can rule, the Leg­is­la­ture has shrunk al­most ev­ery source of money for tra­di­tional pub­lic schools. Broward and Palm Beach coun­ties had to ask vot­ers this year for tax in­creases to­ward op­er­at­ing ex­penses and pre­vi­ously did so for con­struc­tion.

Though high-qual­ity pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion can drive a state’s econ­omy, one can as­sume that De­San­tis and the House will con­tinue these mis­guided, ide­o­log­i­cal poli­cies. They also could try to end any re­main­ing lo­cal con­trol of char­ter schools. They could try to make the un­ac­count­able cor­po­rate voucher pro­gram avail­able to fam­i­lies well above the mid­dle class, even though the vouch­ers osten­si­bly are to ben­e­fit poor stu­dents.

We draw this con­clu­sion be­cause the new leader of the House Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee is Rep. Jen­nifer Sul­li­van, R-Mount Dora. She was home-schooled. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port in the Or­lando Sen­tinel, she may lack a col­lege de­gree as she helps to craft pol­icy on uni­ver­si­ties.

But she does have the re­quired GOP at­ti­tude: “There is some­thing to be said for some­one who has not been sub­jected to good teach­ers or bad teach­ers, good schools and bad schools, or unions vs. char­ters. My per­spec­tive is a unique one, and one that lends it­self to be­ing more con­cerned with what works than with who ben­e­fits.”

One fan pre­dicts that Cor­co­ran would be Flor­ida’s “most dis­rup­tive” ed­u­ca­tion com­mis­sioner. We’ve had dis­rup­tion for 20 years. A real re­former would try to im­prove the sys­tem with­out tear­ing it down.

Ed­i­to­ri­als are the opin­ion of the Sun Sen­tinel Ed­i­to­rial Board and writ­ten by one of its mem­bers or a de­signee. The Ed­i­to­rial Board con­sists of Ed­i­to­rial Page Edi­tor Rose­mary O’Hara, David Lyons and Edi­tor-in-Chief Julie An­der­son.

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