LWV: The Governor Can’t Dictate Who Our Next Education Commissioner Will Be

Florida education commission is up for grabs

The League of Women Voters of Florida (LWV) is apparently unhappy with school choice-loving former House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis’ choice for education commissioner.

The League on Friday called for a national search “to find the person who is best suited to oversee Florida’s system of public education.”

In a letter to Chairwoman Marva Johnson and the State Board of Education, LWV President Patricia Brigham urged board members to invoke Article IX, Section 2 of the Florida Constitution, adopted in 1998 — a provision Brigham says gives the Board of Education, not the governor, the responsibility to appoint a commissioner of education.

“Further,” Brigham writes, “the Board of Education members’ terms of office were purposely staggered to ensure that as governors change, the Florida education system would be insulated from the disruption caused by political patronage appointments of a Commissioner of Education.

“At a minimum, Floridians expect you to carry out a due diligence process aimed at ensuring Florida’s students that an individual of the highest possible caliber oversees public education. We urge you to take this important duty seriously and not simply ‘rubber stamp’ a politically motivated choice.”

The letter goes on to say this:

“Under our state’s current constitution, the Governor retains input to the process by filling vacancies which occur as Board Members terms expire, however, the Board must carry out its constitutional duty and make appointments based upon merit, not political patronage. While members of the Board may ultimately concur with the recommendation of the incoming Governor regarding who to appoint, the Board of Education should decline to opt for an expedient political patronage selection.

“In sum, the Board should be guided by the constitutional statement that imposes upon the State a “paramount duty” to make “adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.” Included in such a paramount duty is the selection of the best person possible to lead the effort. Finding such a person mandates that the Board conduct a national search and not just grant perfunctory approval to a political patronage appointment.

“Florida’s children deserve nothing less.”

Certainly, Corcoran is a lightning rod in education circles. In the 2017 he pushed through controversial legislation to allow the creation of charter schools, known as “schools of hope,” near struggling public schools. A year later he backed a bill that created “hope scholarships,” allowing bullied students to use publicly funded vouchers to transfer to private schools. The legislation also expanded vouchers for disabled students and those struggling with reading.

In spite of Brigham’s letter, Chairwoman Johnson — a member of DeSantis’ education transition team, is amenable to the governor-elect’s commissioner recommendation, according to the News Service of Florida. Johnson told NSF on Thursday, “(Corcoran) has the knowledge and experience to ensure continued success at the Department of Education and to protect Florida’s legacy as a national leader in education.”

Corcoran has an important supporter in former Gov. Jeb Bush, leader of Florida’s education reform movement that pioneered vouchers for students from low-income homes.

Said Bush in a statement Thursday, “Richard is one of the state’s most experienced leaders and has long been a trailblazer in education reform.”

Corcoran, he said, “will fearlessly challenge the entrenched status quo” and “is a passionate advocate for expanding opportunity, especially for children most at risk.”

The Florida Education Association, meanwhile, the state’s largest teachers union and an opponent of Corcoran’s education legislation, is pushing for a nationwide search.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith.