It’s practically unheard of for governors to endorse school board candidates. But in Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ world, where meddling in the educational system is your Republican Party’s dog whistle, of course he’s putting his weight behind candidates who’ll fall in line with his fascist agenda.
School board candidates have traditionally remained nonpartisan, but not in Florida. DeSantis has endorsed about 10 school board candidates there.
According to Axios, groups such as The 1776 Project, “the first national PAC specifically launched to boost school board candidates opposed to CRT,” and Moms for Liberty are deeply embroiled in school board contests. The 1776 Project Founder Ryan Girdusky told Axios that the PAC planned to spend around $300,000 in the state’s school board races this year.
Christian Ziegler, vice chair of the Republican Party of Florida, told Politico, “People are frustrated with the business-as-usual on these school boards,” and when it comes to school board elections, he added, “Payback is coming in August.” Ziegler’s wife Bridget is running to keep her seat on the Sarasota County school board and has already been endorsed by DeSantis.
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Although Florida has a stunning teacher shortage—Florida Trend writes that it is “worsening,” with “estimates fearing that vacancies could double by the end of 2022”—DeSantis continues to pressure teachers to push his conservative curriculum, forcing some to leave the profession altogether.
During his time in office, DeSantis, who’s predicted to run for president in 2024, has legislated a “Don’t Say Gay” bill and the “Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees,” aka the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act,” which bans teaching critical race theory (CRT). He’s even targeted some math books with claims of “indoctrination” or “exposure to dangerous and divisive concepts.”
As for potential school board candidates, they’re being asked to take DeSantis’ education survey to make sure their views jive with the governor’s right-wing agenda, like rejecting CRT and COVID lockdowns and supporting “Keep Woke Gender Ideology Out of Schools,” to name a few. They’re then asked to take a pledge to “stand with Governor Ron DeSantis.”
@GovRonDeSantis endorsing school board candidates and having them sign this pledge is beyond unethical. This is behavior of a dictatorship, which he seeks bring to all of America in 2024. Protect our public Ed by not voting to re-elect racist Ron! #removeron #DeathSantis pic.twitter.com/nXCiiuF4pw— "Junior" Salazar for FL State House District 70 (@Junior4FL) July 7, 2022
@GovRonDeSantis endorsing school board candidates and having them sign this pledge is beyond unethical. This is behavior of a dictatorship, which he seeks bring to all of America in 2024. Protect our public Ed by not voting to re-elect racist Ron! #removeron #DeathSantis pic.twitter.com/nXCiiuF4pw
Monica Colucci has taught in the Miami-Dade County schools for the past 26 years. In her run for a position on the school board, she raised $53,000, with about $15,000 from state Republicans in May, and in June, she raised another $31,000, Politico reports. Roberto Alonso, another Miami Dade school board candidate endorsed by DeSantis, raked in $1,000 from Republican lawmakers and has raised over $83,000 so far.
Axios reports that candidates April Carney, who has complained incessantly about COVID policies; Fred Lowry, a QAnon conspiracy theorist; and Colucci, who opposed CRT and vows to protect "female athletes and the integrity of female sports," are all described as “pro-parent” and endorsed by DeSantis.
“Suddenly, school board races, which are nonpartisan here in Duval County, typically don’t get a ton of attention. They kind of fly under the radar. But there have been political efforts on both sides of the aisle to get Democrats and Republicans elected. This is a big shift,” Michael Binder, a professor of political science at the University of North Florida, told News-4 in Jacksonville, Florida.
Brevard County school board member Jennifer Jenkins told the Florida Phoenix she feels as if “DeSantis has turned up the fire for that culture war conversation in public education — the nonsense of all-of-a-sudden he’s endorsing school board members, making a nonpartisan race very clearly partisan.”