Diaz gets governor’s backing for education commissioner
By Ryan Dailey
News Service of Florida
With Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran stepping down at the end of the month, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday recommended Republican state Sen. Manny Diaz Jr. as Corcoran’s replacement.
Corcoran, a Republican former House speaker, announced last month that he will “return to private life” when his resignation takes effect at the end of April. Corcoran was appointed as commissioner in 2018 shortly before DeSantis took office.
In his time as commissioner, Corcoran has served as a top ally of DeSantis on contentious education issues. For instance, Corcoran was instrumental in carrying out DeSantis’ directives to stop school districts from enforcing mask mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic and to prevent critical race theory in classrooms.
Diaz similarly has helped carry out DeSantis’ education agenda in the Senate.
“Manny Diaz has done a great job in the Legislature on education issues ranging from teacher pay to parental rights and choice. I am confident that he will serve our state well as the commissioner of education,” DeSantis said in a statement announcing the recommendation.
Diaz needs to be formally appointed by the State Board of Education, which is made up of DeSantis appointees. The board is scheduled to meet May 11.
Diaz, a Hialeah Republican, was elected to the Senate in 2018 after serving in the House for six years. He has held posts such as chairman of the Senate Education Committee and the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee.
Diaz also has sponsored high-profile education bills, including two measures during the 2022 legislative session that were top priorities of DeSantis.
One of those measures (HB 7) would restrict how race-related issues can be taught in schools and in workplace training.
Part of the bill pertaining to public-schools, for example, seeks to prevent instruction that would cause students to feel “guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress” because of past actions by members of the same race, sex or national origin.
The bill was dubbed by DeSantis the “Stop Wrongs Against Our Kids and Employees Act,” or Stop WOKE Act. It has not formally been sent to DeSantis for his signature.
A news release from the governor’s office about DeSantis’ recommendation of Diaz touted the measure as “eliminating CRT (critical race theory) and woke training in Florida schools and businesses.”
Diaz is a former classroom teacher who works as an administrator for Doral College, a private school that is a part of Miami-based charter school company Academica.
“For my entire career I have worked to improve the education system to serve Florida’s students, parents and teachers. I am excited to get to work continuing the mission of the governor to make Florida the Education State,” Diaz said in a statement last Thursday.
A vocal proponent of charter schools, Diaz also has been a driving force behind the expansion of school-voucher programs.
During the 2019 legislative session, Diaz sponsored a measure that was signed by DeSantis to create the Family Empowerment Scholarship voucher program. The program significantly expanded eligibility criteria for school-voucher recipients.
Diaz also has shepherded higher-education legislation.
DeSantis this week signed a Diaz-sponsored bill dealing with higher-education accreditation and the process of reviewing university professors’ tenure.
The bill (SB 7044) will force colleges and universities to change accreditors at the end of each accreditation cycle, which can last up to 10 years. It also authorizes the state university system’s Board of Governors to adopt a regulation requiring university professors to undergo a “comprehensive post-tenure review” every five years.
Opponents of the new law, including the United Faculty of Florida, argued that individual schools already have processes to review faculty tenure.
Diaz would become the first Hispanic education commissioner in Florida, according to the Department of Education.
Corcoran has frequently clashed with teachers’ unions. But Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, appeared to express optimism last Thursday about Diaz stepping into the job.
“While we may not always agree, FEA looks forward to working with the new commissioner toward a common goal — making our public schools the strongest in the nation. To ensure that every child gets the education they need, we must address our massive shortage of teachers and staff,” Spar said in a tweet.