Florida Politics

House Speaker: Miami lawmaker ‘crashed against gates of hell’ by supporting schools bill

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, left, R-Land O’Lakes, sits with Rep. Roy Hardemon, D-Miami, while they attend the groundbreaking ceremony to for the Liberty Square Rising project in Liberty City on Wednesday, May 17, 2017.
Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, left, R-Land O’Lakes, sits with Rep. Roy Hardemon, D-Miami, while they attend the groundbreaking ceremony to for the Liberty Square Rising project in Liberty City on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. For the Miami Herald

Miami Democratic Rep. Roy Hardemon had an unlikely and influential ally showering him with praise in his legislative district Wednesday: House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

“He [Hardemon] doesn’t care who’s got power. He doesn’t care what the status quo is. He doesn’t care whether he gets elected,” Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, said in brief remarks on stage for the groundbreaking of the Liberty Square redevelopment project, with Hardemon at his side.

Representative Hardemon crashed against the gates of Hell, against the status quo.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.

Hardemon, a freshman lawmaker, secured himself in Corcoran’s good graces last week, when he broke from the House Democratic caucus to support a controversial $419 million K-12 public schools bill that Corcoran and House Republicans unveiled and successfully pushed through in the final days of session.

Hardemon was the only Democrat in either the House or Senate to vote in favor of HB 7069.

“He doesn’t fear. What he cares about is his community,” Corcoran said, before touting a key provision of HB 7069 that’s meant to help neighborhoods like Liberty City.

Liberty_Square_Groundbreaki_2 (4)
Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for the Liberty Square Rising project in Liberty City on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. Rep. Roy Hardemon, D-Miami, stood on stage with Corcoran during brief remarks. MATIAS J. OCNER For the Miami Herald

The bill indirectly allocates $140 million statewide to a new “Schools of Hope” program to help kids in perpetually failing schools that, in some cases, have no other educational options. The idea is a Corcoran creation and top priority.

Most of the dollars will be used as financial incentives to attract specialized charter schools, which is part of what makes the program contentious. House Republicans aim to recruit new charter schools to Florida’s low-income areas, so they can directly compete with poor-performing neighborhood schools — such as those in Liberty City.

“When you don’t have proper housing, when you don’t have a community where people can interact and have a future, and when you don’t have schools that afford a child a future, you rob them of their dignity, you rob them of their hope — and that stops,” Corcoran told the crowd at Liberty Square, while speaking of the “Schools of Hope” plan in HB 7069.

“Representative Hardemon crashed against the gates of hell, against the status quo to ensure that future generations of children in Liberty Square will be afforded a world-class education,” Corcoran said.

RELATED: “Gimenez vows to ‘change the narrative’ of Liberty Square as redevelopment begins”

Corcoran and Hardemon later briefly stopped by a nearby Liberty City school, Poinciana Park Elementary — one of 115 schools identified by the state as perpetually failing. (They spoke with the principal for a few minutes but did not tour the school itself, Miami-Dade Public Schools said Thursday.)

In his remarks at Liberty Square, Corcoran specifically declared Poinciana Park “will now be a ‘School of Hope.’ ”

However, it’s premature for Corcoran to guarantee any particular struggling school will reap direct benefits or receive dollars from the “Schools of Hope” plan outlined in HB 7069.

The legislation has yet to be sent to Republican Gov. Rick Scott for his signature, and it’s possible he’ll veto it — as county school superintendents, almost all elected school boards, and parent groups and teachers unions are demanding he do. School choice proponents and charter school groups want Scott to sign it.

If the bill is approved, struggling traditional public schools — like Poinciana Park — will be forced to compete for extra financial help that they could use to improve their standing. The “Schools of Hope” program caps at 25 the number of traditional schools that could get up to $2,000 per student to pay for additional wraparound services, such as after-school programs and mentoring.

“We’re armed with passion and we’re armed with truth, and we will be back and we will change the lives of the schoolchildren in this community,” Corcoran said at the Liberty Square event.

Corcoran said Hardemon invited him to the project’s groundbreaking. Hardemon also joined Corcoran and several Miami-Dade Republicans at a Dade delegation “thank you” reception at Florida International University earlier in the day.

Corcoran has been in Miami-Dade County this week for various events, in part, to drum up support for the schools bill, as Scott faces mounting pressure to veto it — and all approved K-12 spending for 2017-18. Traditional public school advocates say the Legislature’s approved increase in base funding of only $24.49 per student, or 0.34 percent, is insufficient.

Herald staff writers David Smiley and Martin Vassolo contributed.

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