Richard Corcoran just fired Lisa Miller, Florida’s best ESE advocate. Why? Because he’s a bad person with power.

My fellow Polk County School Board member Lisa Miller is a former teacher and the parent of a profoundly disabled child, who requires constant care. I consider Lisa the most knowledgable, compassionate, and effective real world ESE advocate in the state of Florida. As a courageous and giving person and parent, who has somehow managed the full-time jobs of caregiver and school board member, she is a model for all of us.

Lisa also volunteers this expertise freely to the state of Florida — and has for years. She was recently re-elected as vice chair for the Florida Advisory Committee on Exceptional Student Education.

And then, even more recently, she was fired from this volunteer position. Why? Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, who fired her, wouldn’t say. Here’s how Lisa put it in a recent Facebook post:

I have served on the state of Florida Advisory Committee on Exceptional Student Education for several years. I was recently elected as vice chair of this committee. I will not be able to continue this volunteer service after receiving notification that my term was not renewed by our current education commissioner. The bylaws state there are no term limits and the terms run 3 years and renews every two after the first term.

The only conclusion that I have is that the tough questions that were asked were not favorable of the current climate at the Department of Education. I served on the sub-committee with the fewest members. We were charged with discussing students on ACCESS curriculum. These are the most significantly disabled students in our schools. I served next to a principal of a private center school and a representative from the Juvenile Justice Department. There are very few people in education with the knowledge and understanding of our ACCESS students. I advise our advocates for this population to be even more vigilant in their efforts to make sure these students have a seat at the table when decisions are made.

Lisa was advocating for the most vulnerable children in our society at the state level, in practical and realistic ways. Richard Corcoran likes to brag about his Christianity. But deeds reveal. I think Richard Corcoran fired Lisa Miller because he is a fundamentally bad person who is here to hurt you and your kids because he thinks it advances his political career somehow.

The Florida education way: punish people for doing their jobs well on behalf of citizens

I cannot possibly count the number of people in this county to whom Lisa has served as a resource. I cannot count the number of people I sent to her, before her election in 2018, for help, whom she has helped. She has been a tremendous resource for me as a board member — both before and after her election — in trying to learn and improve how ESE functions.

Believe me when I tell you that any superintendent of schools in Florida would be wise to consider Lisa for his or her ESE director. Moreover, Lisa’s advocacy is both practical and cross partisan. Disability transcends party and division like almost nothing else. And Lisa’s productive network is extraordinarily diverse, as is her ability to work with all different types of people. And Corcoran (and Gov. DeSantis) fired her for it.

And Lisa won’t suffer because she was fired. This takes a responsibility off her plate in life. But it’s a responsibility she was willing and committed to exercising. Now the people she’s advocating for — our most vulnerable and those who serve them — have lost a brilliant and formidable voice on their behalf. I’m sure Corcoran and Ralph Arza are high-fiving each other.

Where was Kelli Stargel? And the rest of our delegation?

As evidence of Lisa’s apolitical approach to advocacy, she has always maintained cordial and productive professional relations with Sen. Kelli Stargel and her staff.

So where was the supposed Polk County “education senator” when Corcoran was firing Lisa Miller and harming her constituents?

We’ve heard not a public peep from Kelli or Chad. Much less any of the other inconsequential people Polk County has sent to Tallahassee to slavishly obey the Senate president or House Speaker. Silence and indifference to everything. What can I do? It’s not like you elected me to exercise power on your behalf and advocate for your interests. You sent me here so I could have a cool parking spot and a stepping stone to the next useless job. What do you want me to do about it? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

Maybe Kelli was helping concoct the insane new pre-school bill that proposes to let the Department of Education seize First Presbyterian and First UMC and all the other pre-Ks out there — and turn them  into test factories for 3-year-olds that produce school grades even more fraudulent than K-12 school grades. This is happening, folks. Wake up. Even your 3-year-olds are just sellable data to Corcoran, DeSantis, and Stargel.

By the way, if you think this approach works, consider that chasing test scores has left Florida with the worst test score growth performance of any state in the country; one of America’s worst teacher shortages; and by far the largest drop in kids attending college of any state in the country in the last year.

(There are very legitimate debates to have about the cost/benefit of modern college and who should go. But the modern test-and-punish system, which Kelli and Corcoran now want to impose on 3-year-olds, is built to drive mass amounts of kids into college by putting sharp teeth into measures of academic – as opposed to skills-based — performance. It’s a failure in every way.)

March Monday to restore basic decency and humanity to education and government

The core crisis in Florida education and state government is that bad people are in charge of it. Bad people have power. We, the citizens, put them there — either through direct choice or indifference or a willingness to tolerate harm to done to others.

People, including me, are rallying in Tallahassee on Monday for many reasons. I want to be with teachers and education employees to thank them and advocate for them. That’s certainly a massive part. But I’m also going to advocate for the return of basic decency and humanity to the application of state power. That’s a more abstract sounding goal.

But as Lisa’s experience shows — and the FSA for toddlers will show — these abstractions about power detonate in the lives of flesh and blood human beings.

2 comments

  1. Craig B. McKee

    A word to the parents, guardians and students who are unable to attend the rally in Tallahassee. ( cf. Ledger: “Polk Teachers Jobs Threatened” Jan. 11)
    Don’t let the politicians use our children as pawns and bargaining chips now that they have resorted to bullying our teachers.
    Stay home from school on Tuesday, Jan. 14, to show your support for your real educational future in Polk: your teachers!

  2. John Jordan

    Lisa Miller’s firing was not personal. Having a knowledgeable person on this committee only serves to highlight that Corcoran’s charter schools do not do ESE well…if at all.