Ron DeSantis of Florida is blazing a new path for GOP governors — putting his muscles behind conservative school board candidates who align with his diary.
Why is this important: School boards have become ground zero for political struggles over COVID-19 restrictions, programs involving racism, and the rights of LGBTQ students and transgender athletes. DeSantis, who is running for re-election this year, is widely seen as a rising force in the GOP and a 2024 presidential prospect.
Driving the news: DeSantis announced endorsements of 10 candidates for Florida school boards last month. Some supporters expect more before the August 23 election.
The big picture: Some other governors have entered into education-related contests — though none have matched DeSantis’ commitment to the grassroots level.
- Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt has endorsed his current chief of public education, Ryan Walters, as state superintendent. Walters, who is heading to a second round of primary next month, is advocating for the removal of critical race theory (CRT) from school curricula. It’s the first issue listed on his campaign website.
- Virginia’s Glenn Youngkin made so-called parental controls in schools a touchstone of his winning campaign last year. As governor, he recently tried unsuccessfully to force early elections this year for the nine seats on the Loudon County School Board, which has been a hotbed of political wars over public school policies following a high profile sexual assault case.
Enlarge: groups with largely conservative views, including The 1776 Project and Moms for Liberty, also participate in school board competitions in Florida. The country’s third most populous state – which is also home to former President Trump – appears to be attracting major money and attention.
- Project 1776, the first national PAC specifically launched to boost candidates from school boards opposed to the CRT, plans to pour about $300,000 into races in Florida, PAC founder Ryan Girdusky told Axios.
- By comparison, the group spent about two-thirds of that in Texas, New York and Georgia combined. He plans to enter contests in California.
- Politico recently reported that dozens of committees with ties to the Florida GOP were paying money to candidates who shared DeSantis’ views.
What they say : “Parents across Florida should ask school board candidates and their current school board members how they scored in the DeSantis education program,” said Dave Abrams, senior adviser to the re-election campaign for DeSantis, to Axios in a statement.
- Abrams added that the program “served as a model for the nation as Florida school board applicants ran and won.”
- Moms for Liberty co-founder Tiffany Justice, a former school board member, told Axios that teachers’ unions have long controlled school boards – but that could change because “they actually have people fighting against them. now”.
- A national education official told Axios that governors endorsing school board nominees were “out of the ordinary.” The leader said the pandemic has sparked renewed interest in school boards, although they have seen some of the political unrest “calm down a bit”.
How it works: Candidates endorsed by DeSantis and described as “pro-parent” include:
- April Carney, who decided to run for the Duval County School Board after her children struggled with the school’s COVID policies. She has raised more than Already $74,000 as incumbent Elizabeth Anderson has also raised over $75,000 – huge sums for school board runs.
- Fred Lowry in Volusia County, which promoted QAnon conspiracy theories and questioned the reality of the pandemic.
- Monica Colucci in Miami-Dade County, whose platform includes opposing the CRT and protecting “female athletes and the integrity of women’s sports.”
Florida School Board Candidates can also visit a DeSantis website and take a survey to see how aligned they are with the Governor’s education agenda. Priorities include rejecting lockdowns, CRT and keeping ‘Woke Gender Ideology Out of Schools’ depending on the website.
- Respondents are asked questions such as “Do you agree that students should be educated, not indoctrinated?” and “Do you support the Governor’s efforts to demand that students learn the horrors of communism?”
- They can claim a certificate of non-approval that reads, “I support Governor Ron DeSantis and pledge to…” followed by a list of education priorities.