The Phoenix Flyer

Sen. Manny Diaz, Jr. is the top contender for the FL Education Commissioner job. Is that good or not?

By: - April 22, 2022 11:32 am

Sen. Manny Diaz, Jr., speaking in the Senate Education Committee on Jan 18, 2021. Credit: screenshot/Florida Channel

Republican State Sen. Manny Diaz, Jr. of Miami-Dade is the top contender for the next Education Commissioner in Florida, a job overseeing 2.9-million students in 67 school districts and requiring enough savvy to navigate the policy and politics of the state’s public school system.

The Department of Education also oversees the Florida College System, a network of community colleges in Florida.

The salary likely would be the same or similar to Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s pay: About $284,000, state records show.

Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis recommended Diaz for the position, as did Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson. The State Board of Education would have to make the appointment.

Corcoran plans to leave his position before the end of the school year.

He was a contentious figure in Florida education who dealt with a pandemic in public schools, penalized some local school boards and banned culture-war race theories.

Corcoran didn’t have traditional education credentials — he was a lawyer and former House Speaker.

But Diaz does have an education background in K-12 and college-level jobs, according to his legislative and campaign bios, and has been chair of the Senate education committee in the Legislature. He now is a member of the Senate’s Education Committee, and currently the vice chair of the appropriations subcommittee on education.

In a governor’s press release, Diaz’ credentials include: “Teacher, coach, assistant principal and school administrator. Upon his appointment by the board, Sen. Diaz would be the first Hispanic Commissioner of Education in Florida history.”

But not everyone will be happy with Diaz.

He was a Senate co-sponsor of the culture-war bill HB 7, described as “Individual Freedom,” which restricts certain conversations about race and gender in schools and workplaces. Diaz was a Senate co-sponsor of the bill and voted for it.

For example, the bill constitutes discrimination to subject any student or employee to training or instruction or compel a student or employee to believe concepts such as “members of one race, color, national origin, or sex are morally superior to members of another race, color, national origin, or sex.”

The bill sometimes referred to the “Stop WOKE Act,” and was one of the governor’s signature bills pushed through the 2022 legislative session. DeSantis signed HB 7 into law on Friday.

Diaz attended the bill signing at a public charter school in South Florida, where DeSantis described Diaz as “our next Commissioner of Education.”

Diaz also was sponsor of SB 7044, a higher education bill that Gov. DeSantis signed earlier this week. A chief part of the law essentially attacks the long-standing tenet of Florida’s traditional tenure system. It is designed to require each tenured state university faculty member to undergo a comprehensive post tenure review every five years.

The United Faculty of Florida said DeSantis and other state officials “fundamentally do not understand how Florida’s higher education system works,” according to the union’s written statement earlier this week.

“Tenure protects the right of faculty to teach and research honestly and accurately without the threat of politicians who would fire them for doing their jobs, and it protects the rights of students to learn about whatever interests them without being told by big government how to live their lives. The statements made today are playing political games with the futures of over a million of Florida’s students.”

New material was added to the story midafternoon on Friday.

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Diane Rado
Diane Rado

Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.

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