- Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation that eliminates funding for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs in higher education and restricts classroom instruction on critical race theory (CRT).
- The bills also broaden eligibility for the state’s workforce education program and prohibit political loyalty tests in higher education.
- Democrats criticized the legislation as government overreach and suppression of academic freedom.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a series of higher education measures into law on Monday that eliminates funding for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs and establishes standardized curriculum regulations for state universities.
Senate Bill 266 (SB 266) includes provisions to restrict state university spending to “promote, support, or maintain any programs or campus activities” related to DEI initiatives. The legislation also interdicts classroom instruction on subject areas that can be categorized as critical race theory (CRT), which is a theoretical framework and intellectual movement that seeks to examine and understand the ways in which race and racism intersect within power structures and social institutions.
The governor placed his signature on two additional pieces of legislation — Senate Bill 240 and House Bill 931 — which broadens the eligibility threshold for the state’s workforce education program and prohibits higher education institutions from requiring the completion of political loyalty tests in order to meet certain qualifications, respectively.
“We’re going to elevate merit and achievement over identification with certain groups,” said DeSantis on Monday. “In reality, what this concept of DEI has been is an attempt to impose orthodoxy on universities. And not even necessarily in the classroom, but through the administrative apparatus of the university itself, and that manifests itself in a number of different ways. This has basically been used as a veneer to impose an ideological agenda.”
The bills were fiercely contended by Democrat lawmakers, who classified the bill as an authoritarian overreach. A series of 20 failed amendments were filed on the Senate and House floors for SB 266 in order to “water down” the legislation, though little success was found.
“This is sadly the latest example of government overreach into Florida classrooms as his administration continues its authoritarian assault on ideas and information,” said Sen. Shevrin Jones following SB 266’s enactment. “Education ought to be about teaching kids how to think through issues, not what to think about issues. Exposure to wide-ranging experiences and fresh perspectives encourages understanding and creativity. By restricting what students can learn, the state is actively suppressing students’ academic and intellectual freedom.”
The Executive Office of Gov. DeSantis shared reported budget expenditures at state universities on DEI programs with The Capitolist, which concluded that spending at several Florida schools was “significantly misreported” and “shockingly wasteful,” in the words of the governor.
The summary came after state officials announced that all State University System members were required to report expenditures and resources utilized for campus activities related to DEI and CRT.
The original memo, sent to Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz Jr. and State University System Chancellor Ray Rodrigues, outlined a document to provide a comprehensive list of all staff, programs, and campus activities taking place on school grounds, while also requiring the schools to disclose budget expenditures for each reportable item.
“What was reported revealed an extraordinary misuse of taxpayer dollars to promote a political agenda at the expense of academic focus,” DeSantis Press Secretary Bryan Griffin said.
Numbers from the initial audits reflect that with approximately $3.4 million coming from the state, the University of Florida reported spending $5.3 million on diversity-related initiatives and costs, while 43 staff roles associated with the initiatives were also detailed by the institution.
Meanwhile, at the University of Central Florida, roughly $4.5 million was spent on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs and expenses, reporting $2.3 million of the total as subsidized by state funding.
The University of South Florida documented spending around $1.2 million on its Diversity and Inclusion Office, with $1.13 million of the expenditure coming from state sources.
Florida Atlantic University spent approximately $904,000 on diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, including any additional expenses, with close to $643,000 coming from the state.