ORLANDO, Fla. – The Florida Board of Education unanimously confirmed a South Florida state senator as the state’s new education commissioner.
State Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, will take over for Richard Corcoran, who is leaving the position June 1.
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Diaz was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this month.
Before entering politics, Diaz worked as a public school teacher, a coach, an assistant principal and a school administrator in South Florida schools.
He told the board on Friday that’s ready for the challenge.
“We can’t be complacent. The best defense is to go offense,” he said. “We should always be on offense, looking to improve the lives of the students of the state. You can’t rest on your laurels because things are constantly changing especially in this day and age.”
Diaz starts his new position just as the Florida Department of Education rejected 54 math text books.
They claimed there were references to critical race theory, which is a topic Diaz has voted as a state senator to keep out of schools.
He said he will also pick up where Corcoran left off with replacing the common core curriculum and the state’s standardized tests.
Diaz has also been a staunch supporter of Florida’s school voucher program and charter schools. He is currently vice president for financial affairs at Doral College, which provides student services to South Florida charter schools run by Academica, one of the largest operators of charter schools in Florida.
Corcoran and DeSantis are also both staunch supporters of school vouchers and charter schools.
Friday’s confirmation included support from democrats and republicans.
Diaz also drew support from parents.
“Right now, we are fighting about our parental rights,” said Lateresa Jones. “As a fourth generation Black American, I can understand the importance of education.”
“Education is a civil rights issue. It is the number one civil rights issue,” said Glenton Gilzean, Jr., CEO of the Urban League of Central Florida. “Sen. Diaz is the perfect person to build upon the historic education success of Governor DeSantis and Commissioner Corcoran.”
Diaz takes over education in a state that is ranked 46th in the nation when it comes to how much money is spent per student.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Florida spent $9,937 per student in 2021.
That compares with $25,520 spent in number-one ranked New York.
“We need to invest in our schools,” said Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association.
Spar said something needs to be done to retain teachers and hire more of them.
“I have a daughter who’s in seventh grade, and she hasn’t had a science teacher since the third week of January,” he said. “Her science teacher came back after the winter break and said,’ You know, I reflected during the winter break, and I’m not willing to sacrifice the way I’ve had to sacrifice and be treated the way I’m being treated,’ and she walked away from the profession.”
Diaz will take over as education commissioner on June 1.
Until then, the board of education named Jacob Oliva as interim commissioner.
Oliva currently oversees public schools for the Florida Department of Education.