Florida's new education leader draws criticism over school choice

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Incoming Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran spent the last two years as the speaker of the Florida House. In that capacity, he helped expand school choice and was seen as a leading advocate for charter schools and school vouchers.

Now, he’ll be leading the Florida Department of Education, overseeing Florida’s K-12 education.

“We’ll say it today. We’ll say it tomorrow. We’ll say it forever. The whole focus is on giving every child the opportunity for a world-class education,” said Corcoran to reporters following the selection.  “They deserve no less and we will not be resting until we get that for every single child.”

The selection of Corcoran drew quick praise from the conservative grassroots group Americans for Prosperity, with interim State Director Skylar Zander writing, “All students, regardless of income or zip code, deserve access to an education that best meets their need, and Richard Corcoran has a proven track record of empowering children and families with the best educational opportunities.”

Even former Gov. Jeb Bush commented on the selection, tweeting, “Florida will remain a national leader in empowering parents and providing every child with access to a quality education.”

But, while proponents of increased school choice and charter schools applauded the selection, traditional public education advocates raised concerns, with local school board members remaining cautiously optimistic.

“We’re witnessing a heist of public education,” said Kathleen Oropeza, of Fund Education Now.  “All of the choice things we have invested in--that is, the money we invest in public education--that is all going to be transferred into private enterprise.”

For advocates such as Oropeza, the issue is oversight, or in the case of charter schools and private schools that receive taxpayer-backed scholarships, a lack of oversight.

For school districts this represents what some have called an unfair playing field, in which public schools are held to a higher standard than charter schools or private schools.

“Let the market dictate what is best for kids,” said Lake County School Board member Bill Mathias.  “Take the gloves off Lake County Schools, and let us compete fairly with charter schools and I guarantee you that public schools will win."