As you read this, keep these two charts in your head. And when you're done, go read this fantastic article by Ryan "Teacher Voice" Haczynski of Hillsorough County.
We Florida voters are famously divided.
The presidential and governor's elections always seem close, divisive, and epic. But if you look closer, you will see two issues that thoroughly unite us -- Republican, Democrat, and NPA alike:
Our local kids, teachers, and schools need more resources than the Governor and Legislature have given them. And we are willing to tax ourselves to provide them. 24 of 24 counties did so last year, including Polk. Red counties, blue counties, Trump counties, Hillary counties; it didn't matter. We don't hate our local school kids and teachers; and we all recognized the need for Kelli Stargel Unfunded Mandate taxes to try to keep public education alive in this ridiculously governed state.
We completely reject Richard Corcoran, as a leader and politician. He combines the worst instincts of Betsy DeVos and Barack Obama on education policy. A dirty little secret is that Obama and DeVos really don't disagree that much on education. They are in the discredited, bipartisan "reformer" camp, which for 20-plus years has fought to overtest kids and punish the teachers committed to work with them for little money.
Corcoran won his legislative seat in Land O'Lakes with less than 10,000 votes. (By comparison, I won 140,000 to become a Polk County School Board member.) He managed to parlay that tiny election into a speakership because your legislators are sheep with very little self-respect.
He then set about running for governor in one way or another for his entire 2-year term as Speaker of the House. He built his speakership and campaign on a platform of harming local communities and school districts and their stakeholders. He was the prime architect of House Bill 7069, which is designed to kill as many public schools in as many local communities as possible so the kids to be outsourced to Ralph Arza charter schools and Pastor Tiger voucher schools, with your tax money.
In a shocking move, Corcoran's teacher-hating grift proved unpopular with everyone, especially Republican primary voters. Corcoran never polled over the low single digits in the governor's primary. Keep in mind, this was a primary in which Florida Republican voters clearly wanted some alternative to Adam Putnam, the presumptive nominee.
In swooped Ron DeSantis, with a little boost from Trump. He killed Corcoran's campaign. And he should have asked himself why it was so easy to do that to the sitting Speaker of the House. The new governor should have reflected on why Republican voters rejected Corcoran's contempt for public education, teachers and local communities before he made Corcoran the Commissioner of Education, in charge of public education, teachers, and local communities.
But now, the governor is stuck with him, just like the rest of us.
Florida is a tribally Republican state in governor's elections; so DeSantis is a solid favorite to win re-election if he doesn't spend his term stepping on rakes. Education, in Florida, is his only real vulnerability. And yet, he has stepped on a rake there, for absolutely no benefit to himself or the public.
“I’ve been on record: You can teach Plato under a tree”
Which brings us Corcoran's latest, and possibly most overt, effort to wreck DeSantis' re-election.
Quick scene-setter: Corcoran and Casey DeSantis travel to Duval County, which, unlike Polk and many other counties, has no sales tax to fund school construction and repairs. It's very, very expensive to keep air conditioners running at institutional scale. Ask Hillsbrough County.
It's especially difficult because Corcoran and Kelli Stargel and the rest of your education leaders in Florida have drastically cut state capital to public schools and redirected it to charter schools, especially the start-up, for-profitish type represented by Ralph Arza.
Because Duval has no sales tax for capital, a tax that reddish Polk County just supported with 68 percent of the vote, Duval County children and teachers operate within old and collapsing school infrastructure. Duval is trying to get the sales tax vote on the ballot; but Jacksonville's public education and teacher-hating mayor is fighting it. (Duval/Jacksonville has a weird unified county/city government structure.) So Corcoran was asked about the air conditioner tax on his visit. Here is what he said:
“I’ve been on record: You can teach Plato under a tree,” Corcoran said. “That’s what I say all the time.”
Regarding the capital tax question, Corcoran suggested the money would be better spent on operating expenses.
“Every single resource that any local entity has should be going into the classroom. Quality teachers,” Corcoran said. “That’s what’s going to change the outcomes for these students.”
There are no local resources
Put aside the Plato tree silliness and look at the substance here for a moment. "Every resource that any local entity has..." is a crucial phrase.
Districts have no local resources, outside of the taxes our county voters support through referenda, like the would-be Duval tax. Let me repeat that. Your local district has no local resources, unless your voters have approved a tax. The people of Duval are trying to create local resources where none exist.
Florida has a state school system, overseen by an unelected state School Board and an unelected Commissioner of Education. (You really should come see them Wednesday in Lakeland. They're having a meeting here.)
As a locally-elected School Board member, I have no voting authority to raise or lower your local school taxes. Your legislators, most of whom you do not get to vote for, determine what your local tax contribution is to your public education system. And then they determine how much state revenue they send to you. They often direct us on how to spend it.
Categorically unable to pay teachers and custodians and bus drivers
For instance, the greatest waste of money in Florida public education comes in what's called "categorical" spending. That's for text books, technology, and a whole array of stuff designed, in theory, to support the educational process. Your state School Board and school system prevent us from using it to pay teachers or staff. It can't be used for "operations," as Corcoran says.
Let me repeat: no "categorical" spending can be used as Corcoran says because he and legislators prevent us from using it that way, which he knows full well. This is a kabuki dance of the dumb, designed to confuse voters.
The state always provides plenty of money for "categorical" spending because there are vendors who get paid out of that money. And they write campaign contributions and provide jobs for legislators, etc. Some of my most intense criticism of my own district has come over our categorical spending. I think we are doing a much better job overseeing it today. But it's always a work in progress. Because somebody always wants to get paid.
In any event, you can see just from categorical spending that Corcoran's state government is not remotely interested in directing all money into the classroom. It is interested in directing all money to all forms of education "reform" hucksters.
"Quality teachers. That’s what’s going to change the outcomes for these students.”
For this Corcoran quote, I'm just going to repost the graphics from the beginning and refer you to Ryan's epic explainer.
The median teacher salary in Florida, adjusted for inflation, is about $4,000 less than it was in 2010-11. The same pattern, of course, applies to our custodians and bus drivers and all the other vital human beings that make public education possible.
This is largely Richard Corcoran's and Kelli Stargel's doing. This is their legacy. No business could continue to operate by treating its crucial employees this way over time. The state of Florida is a terrible employer, which does not run its government like a business.
It's also telling that local districts, Polk included, have been begging Richard Corcoran and Kelli Stargel and whomever else to end Florida's mindless state bonus schemes, which have been awarded to a handful of teachers based on fraudulent measures or past SAT scores.
Districts would like the state to start paying its teachers more across the board, so that we can recruit more people to fill our classrooms. If you want "quality people" to fill your crucial workplace positions, you need the position to pay adequately and provide adequate work conditions. Again, these are basic business principles. Publix would never run its business like Corcoran runs Florida education.
DeSantis' "disappointment" with Corcoran's bonus plan
DeSantis cited the teacher bonuses as his disappointment with the $90.9 billion state budget he signed last week. He had sought $432 million for a new teacher bonus program, and the budget included $284 million and a different kind of program.
DeSantis said the state’s teachers’ salaries, among the lowest in the country, need to come up. He said his administration is working on a new plan now and will be rolling something out in the fall.
“I’m not fully satisfied that we achieved what we need to achieve. It’s a good budget. But you know going forward I want to be able to position for Florida to retain and recruit good people to go into teaching. Because it’s probably the single biggest factor of whether students will succeed, the quality of the teachers,” he said.
A friendly message to the governor
Governor, I'm sorry to laugh at this, but you put the guy who made Florida's teacher salaries "among the lowest in the country" in charge of teacher salaries. You empowered a teacher-hater. What did you expect? Who are you disappointed with? It sounds like you'er disappointed with Corcoran, Manny Diaz, and Kelli Stargel. Is that correct? What "local resources" am I supposed to pay people with? Categoricals? We've bled our reserves, just like state government insisted, as low as we dare go here in Polk. At least we have facilities/repairs money, thanks to 68 percent of our voters in reddish Polk.
So believe me when I look forward to seeing this actual across the board salary plan soon. But you better tell Richard about it. I doubt he knows.
This is the point at which I remind you, governor and anyone else, of my macro politics. I want you to have no illusions about who I am and what I think.
I’m a No Party Affiliate. I describe myself as an anti-prohibition, pro-14th Amendment, moral conservative — with conservatism defined by honest human observation rather than religion. But most people call me liberal. I don’t care what most people call me. Call me whatever you want to. American political language and vocabulary has ceased to have any meaning.
To me, the true divide in our state and society is honesty versus dishonesty; grifter versus non-grifter. Your Education Commissioner leads a tiny little faction of education grifters that are a cell, of sorts, within the actual Republican party. I'm not lying about any of this.
Actual Republican party voters, like Democratic voters and NPA voters, have roundly rejected Richard Corcoran as a candidate -- as well as the public education and teacher hatred he stands for. How he talked you into hiring him, governor, is a story I would love to hear. Call me and let's talk about it. I'm easy to reach.
In the meantime, think about this. Public education, by all local voting patterns, is much more popular than you are, governor. Public education outperformed everybody in individual countries when it was on the ballot. And you know firsthand just how unpopular Richard Corcoran, personally, is with your own party's voters.
Nonetheless, governor and legislative politics get very tribally partisan in Florida. Kelli Stargel narrowly survived her election in 2018 by running away from her record, laying low, and relying on the tribal R next to her name to pull her across the line. (But ask her if she had any fun.)
So you might get away with appointing the least popular politician in Florida to run the most popular public service in Florida. The tribal R is powerful.
But is it going to be any fun to deal with the weekly "Plato under a tree" teacher-hating nonsense Corcoran is going to keep feeding you? You want to keep cleaning that up? You really want to help him close hundreds of schools and outsource the kids to grifters. You want to deal with that endless fight? There's nothing in that for you. Nothing.
There's another option: you could be a hero. I'll tell you how. Call me. I'm easy to reach. And I'll talk to anybody. I know how to cross tribes with voters when it comes to teachers and public education. You could do worse than to listen to me. In fact, you already have.