- Florida’s school boards removed three superintendents in November, leading some to question the trend
- Newly-elected members giving school boards a conservative lean in Brevard, Broward, and Sarasota counties have ousted superintendents that they claim to lack the necessary leadership
- Gov. Ron DeSantis backed more than two dozen school board candidates that align with his education agenda in the state’s midterm elections, with many emerging victorious
- The DeSantis educational ideology has become more prevalent in school boards, leading to the upheaval of leadership formations in some counties across the state
School board meetings have emerged as one of Florida’s political hotbeds, with opposing educational ideologies and cultural politics rearing their heads. Following the state’s midterm elections in November, the tension of these meetings only proliferated, leading many to wonder what the root cause is. Per usual in Florida politics, the answer may come down to Gov. Ron DeSantis.
A series of school district superintendents across Florida have been purged from their roles in recent weeks, with school boards in Broward, Brevard, and Sarasota counties voting to fire or enter into exit negotiations with the district leader.
In each termination case, the makeup of the county’s school boards shifted to lean conservative after newly-elected members were sworn in. In Brevard County’s decision to fire Mark Mullins, those seeking to separate from his leadership claimed that the area’s schools were stagnating.
“One of the things that has become very apparent is that we have a lot of issues within our district. We are having them with leaders, we are having them with teachers, and we are having them with students,” said Brevard Public Schools Vice Chair Megan Wright. “We have lost our way to some degree. We have lost our focus on what we are doing, and I believe we are only as strong as our leaders are.”
It’s no coincidence that many of Florida’s public school boards are showing a conservative lean following the midterm elections, especially considering DeSantis undertook a relatively unprecedented stance in endorsing individual school board members.
DeSantis and his gubernatorial opponent Charlie Crist jockeyed to represent opposite sides of the educational binary in their campaigns. While DeSantis sought the eradication of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and gender or sexual education from early elementary curricula, Crist advocated for the reinstating of local autonomy in school districts, enabling each district to approve or deny learning plans at their discretion, which may or may not include elements of CRT.
According to DeSantis’ Political Action Committee, The DeSantis Education Agenda is a “student-first, parent-centered initiative focused on setting Florida’s children up for success, ensuring parental rights in education, and combatting the woke agenda from infiltrating public schools.”
In July, DeSantis personally endorsed 29 school board candidates, with many of them finding success in their respective elections.
These 29 candidates are committed to advancing a bold education agenda in Florida.
Parents can rest easy knowing that these candidates will fully support their rights, support good curriculum, and ensure that students reach their full potential in our K-12 system. pic.twitter.com/y60h9ekmrl
— Ron DeSantis (@RonDeSantisFL) July 28, 2022
“I’m proud to release my full slate of pro-parent, student-first school board candidate endorsements. Our school board members are on the frontlines of defending our students and standing up for parental rights,” said DeSantis. “These 29 candidates are committed to advancing a bold education agenda in Florida. Parents can rest easy knowing that these candidates will fully support their right as parents to ensure their children reach their full potential in Florida’s K-12 education system.”
In total, 25 DeSantis-backed school board candidates won elections to serve on their local school board. As such, the DeSantis educational platform is seeping through the cracks to disrupt the old guard in local education policy.
In return, school boards are taking harsh stances against administrators who implemented COVID-19 masking and vaccine policies in schools, as well as pressuring school leaders to allow for more parental input in education.
With three superintendents out the door, advocate groups like Moms for Liberty claim that more changes are yet to come.
“New school boards are being sworn in all over Florida, and one thing is clear. They aren’t wasting any time getting rid of superintendents. So far, Broward, Charlotte, Sarasota, & now Brevard— with rumors of others to come,” said the Volusia County chapter of Moms for Liberty.
Education was a chief priority for the DeSantis team in the lead-up to his win over Crist. Political battles over COVID-19 limits, curriculum regulation, and parental roles in their children’s education have centered on school boards, with DeSantis taking on such issues for his re-election campaign.
The governor took several steps to impose his vision of education on Florida schools, including his signings of the Parental Rights in Education bill, the Parents’ Bill of Rights, and the ‘Stop WOKE Act.’
DeSantis notably and controversially committed to keeping schools open following the first wave of pandemic shutdowns, much to the chagrin of a school district collective including some of Florida’s largest counties like Broward County, whose superintendent Vickie Cartwright was voted out in November.
“There has now been in recent weeks, it seems, more of these blips talking about “Oh, the damage from school closures were way worse than anticipated.” No, it was fully anticipated what would happen,” remarked the governor. “In Florida, we understood. I was looking at these other states that never wanted the kids in school. Don’t tell me that remote education is a substitute.”
DeSantis also touts his elimination of Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) testing, a move that was celebrated by the overwhelming majority of teachers, students, and parents.
The programs drew criticism after curriculums shifted to a focus on passing the end-of-year tests rather than thoroughly teaching the material. With the move away from standardized testing, Florida will become the first state in the nation to enact progress monitoring.
The elimination, or at minimum the reform, of standardized testing, has been a request made by teachers and parents nationwide that has gained momentum in recent years. Should Florida’s shift to progress monitoring prove successful, expect to see states around the country adopt similar systems.
The measure is expected to reduce testing time by more than 75 percent. The child-specific monitoring allows educators to track and receive real-time data reflecting the specific areas that a student may need remedial instruction on. The monitoring also allows students to receive feedback in the current school year, as opposed to the FSA method which oftentimes doesn’t provide testing results until the following summer break.
Overall, DeSantis’ educational policies have been proven to be popular among Floridians, consequentially leading to an overwhelming margin of victory for his backed school board candidates. While successors for the removed superintendents have yet to be named, it can be presumed that they will closely align with the DeSantis education agenda.