Gov. Ron DeSantis discusses education initiatives, some controversial. Jan. 23, 2023. Credit: DeSantis Facebook.
In a series of education initiatives Monday, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis pushed to further politicize local school board elections — a way to get more conservatives on those boards that oversee Florida’s massive public education system.
That means that Floridians would go into a voting booth to pick their preferred school board candidate and see either an ‘R’ for Republican, ‘D’ for Democrat or other political parties, even though the role has historically been nonpartisan.
The Florida Legislature would have to approve the measure during the 2023 legislative session.
The remarks came during a Monday morning press conference at Duval Charter School at Baymeadows in Jacksonville. The proposal for partisan school board elections was just one of the announcements DeSantis discussed during the press conference.
The governor has already contributed to the politization of local school board elections through his endorsements of over two dozen candidates across the state during the November 2022 election, which was generally unprecedented. A majority of his endorsed candidates won their races.
In addition, DeSantis wants to get sitting school board members out sooner by reducing their term limits. Currently, school board members can serve 12 consecutive years if they are reelected, but DeSantis would like to see that limited to eight years, which is in line with the term limits of state lawmakers.
Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat who represents part of Orange County, tweeted Monday:
“Governor now wants 8 year term limits for school board members and partisan elections to basically get rid of current members over time and make public education more partisan. This goes far deeper than just culture wars — this is an educational power grab.”
The press conference also focused on increasing starting teacher pay, an initiative DeSantis has showcased for several years.
For the 2022-23 fiscal year, the Florida Legislature approved $800 million to primarily focus on raising the starting pay of teachers to an average of $47,500, with some pay increases going to veteran teachers.
DeSantis wants to add on an additional $200 million to that effort, according to the Monday press conference. But it’s not clear how much the additional funds will raise for starting teacher salaries in 2023-2024.
The governor also said he backs a legislative proposal prohibiting union officials from making more money than what the highest paid teachers currently earn. “You have these people making huge amounts of money and you have the teacher’s making half of that money. How is that fair?” he said.
The Florida Education Association, a statewide teacher union, replied in a press release that “Florida remains stuck near the bottom in national rankings for average teacher pay.”
FEA President Andrew Spar added in a written statement:
“Teachers and staff in our public schools struggle to pay rent, homeowners insurance and other bills because their pay is so low, just like so many Floridians. Teachers and staff are leaving at an alarming rate, in large part due to the policies implemented under Gov. DeSantis.”
At the news conference, DeSantis also addressed criticism of the Florida Department of Education’s rejection of an Advanced Placement African American Studies (APAAS) for high school students last week. The department’s rejection of the non-profit College Board’s pilot course on African American studies has led to outrage from Democratic lawmakers and several Black-led organizations.
DeSantis began by saying that the state wants “education, not indoctrination.”
“This course on Black history – what’s one of the lessons about? Queer theory. Now who would say that an important part of Black history is queer theory? he said. “That is somebody pushing an agenda on our kids,” DeSantis said.
He said that another portion of the course content included abolishing prisons, saying that “is more ideology being used under the guise of history, and we want to do history.”
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