On Jan. 31, the New College of Florida’s Board of Trustees (BOT) fired former President Patricia Okker and proposed replacing her with an interim, Republican politician and education administrator Richard Corcoran, effective Feb. 27. Corcoran’s base salary will sit at $699,000, approved when his proposed contract was ratified at a Special BOT Meeting Feb. 13. Corcoran has a troubled history in Florida’s government and education, and with less than two weeks before he arrives, it would be prudent to take a look through his record.
The Canadian-born Corcoran, age 57, moved to Pasco County as a child. He briefly attended the University of Florida (UF) before dropping out to attend Saint Leo, a local Catholic liberal arts school near the Pasco County seat, Dade City.
1996-2006: Corcoran went on to earn his Juris Doctor degree from Regent University and subsequently to serve as a member of several campaign teams, as well as make an unsuccessful bid for State Representative. He worked with Representative John Renke, Paul Hawkes, Mike Fasano, Daniel Webster, Tom Feeney and eventually Marco Rubio before quitting to focus on a Senate campaign that did not come to fruition.. Here, he served as legal counsel for Solantic, a series of urgent-care clinics founded by the future Florida governor that was equally riddled with controversy.
2006-2010: Corcoran would eventually come to represent the 37th (and then, after redistricting in his first term, 45th legislative district) in the Florida House. In his eight-year tenure, he found an ally in Matt Gaetz, the notorious far-right Trump acolyte, while they were both freshmen representatives. His history as a campaign staffer helped him eventually win the Florida House Speakership, which he held from 2016-2018. He would go on to eye a run for governor in 2018 (with Gaetz’s endorsement), but he backed out of the race—which would be won by Ron DeSantis.
Corcoran’s time in politics has been marred with controversy, essentially from the start. As a member of Marco Rubio’s campaign staff and as a member of the Florida House, he came under fire several times when he was accused of frivolously using Republican party money on luxuries for him and his coworkers, including spending several thousand on cigars and cufflinks. This was part of a broader trend that characterized the Florida Republican party in these years, as they faced several internal audits and eventually saw their own party chairman ousted.
While in office, Corcoran ardently supported private and charter schools, an increase in parental and state supervision and the usage of school vouchers. This has been a frequent point of concern for watchdog groups, as he has several close connections within Florida’s private education industry.
2019-2022: After completing the maximum of four terms for a Florida State Representative in 2018, Corcoran was selected as the new Florida Education Commissioner. He held this position for three years, and his time in the role was tumultuous. Much like his time in office, it was characterized by a deeply oppositional relationship with the Florida Education Association, the largest organized labor group in the state. His appointment to this position was questioned due to his lack of experience and his wife’s involvement in the charter school industry, as well as her consistent collaboration with several conservative education groups.
Corcoran saw accusations of alleged bid-rigging, as it became apparent that he had held a closed-door meeting with a longtime colleague of his who would go on to win a closed bid for educational services held by the state. Further suspicions were raised by the creation of a new company by Corcoran’s associates, Strategic Partners Initiatives. Eventually, after investigations proved inconclusive, several members of the board—as well as Corcoran himself—would go on to resign from their positions as Democratic lawmakers and teachers accused him of illegal dealings.
Corcoran also played an essential role in keeping Florida schools open during the coronavirus pandemic. As Commissioner, he ensured that all schools had a fully functioning public option, and consistently denied districts the opportunity to go online-only. He also railed against the efficiency of masks in preventing the spread of the disease. COVID-19 proved an important proving ground for Corcoran, as well as Gov. DeSantis, as they aligned with then-President Trump to prevent school shutdowns across the state.
Richard Corcoran has spent his time in office developing an increasingly complicated and at times hostile relationship with the educators of Florida, and his appointment to the New College Presidency has marked the latest appointment of a man who has made a career out of the state education system.