Florida education commissioner Richard Corcoran defended two decades of Republican reforms in front of a hostile crowd of Miami-Dade and Broward county teachers during a town hall in Miami Gardens Thursday night.
The auditorium at Miami Norland Senior High School was full of angry teachers who heckled Corcoran as he praised state laws that promote alternatives to traditional public education like privately run charter schools.
The former Republican House speaker also drew the crowd's ire when he lauded policies that he argued enhance accountability, like testing requirements and the state's system for grading schools based on academic performance.
They booed again when Corcoran referenced a proposal from Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to establish a statewide minimum teacher salary of $47,500. Unions have opposed the plan, arguing it wouldn't help veteran educators or other school employees.
Thursday’s event began civilly, with fellow panelists state Rep. Shevrin Jones and Miami-Dade County school board member Steve Gallon III thanking Corcoran for agreeing to appear, despite that he was likely to encounter dissenters. But the crowd quickly turned raucous, as teachers complained they were being lectured and prevented from asking questions.
At one point, Corcoran joked that he could take the heat.
"I grew up in an Irish Catholic family with five kids. I have older brothers, so I’ve been beat up a lot," he said. "I don’t mind if you guys shout me off the stage. You won’t hurt my feelings."
Corcoran was recommended for the education commissioner post by DeSantis, and he has since traveled the state touting the governor’s education proposals.
He recently led a statewide listening tour on another one of DeSantis’ priorities: replacing the Common Core with a new set of academic standards for Florida’s public schools. The schedule didn’t include a stop in Miami-Dade or Broward, blue counties with strong teachers’ unions that have been outspoken against him.
During Thursday's tense forum, other education leaders sat in the audience, including Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho and school board members Perla Tabares-Hantman, Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, Martin Karp and Maritere Rojas.
Florida Education Association president Fedrick Ingram also attended. The former president of the United Teachers of Dade, Ingram has led his own statewide tour in recent weeks advocating for more school funding. The union's campaign will culminate with a Jan. 13 rally in Tallahassee, just before the start of the 2020 legislative session.
One speaker who said she was a former Broward County teacher referenced the upcoming event in her comments to Corcoran during the town hall.
“In January,” she said, “we are coming.”