It’s no secret that Florida has become ground zero for conservative educational policy. Gov. Ron DeSantis has made countless headlines throughout the past year due to policies like the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill, the Stop WOKE Act, book banning in K-12 schools and, most recently, the appointment of six new Board of Trustees (BOT) members at New College of Florida on Jan. 6, followed by a seventh appointee on Jan. 26. The 2023 legislative session looms on the horizon, and education is still a hot issue on policymakers’ minds. So, in an effort to get up to speed, the Catalyst brings you a refresh on what the DeSantis administration has done for education in recent months.
By the end of the Fall 2022 semester, countless school districts across the state—holding new conservative majorities after the 2022 midterm elections—fired their superintendents, many without cause and without warning. In Sarasota, superintendent Brennan Asplen was fired without cause and the district is now struggling to find a replacement. Acting superintendent Chris Renouf is reluctant to hold the position for much longer, and only two people have put forward their names to be considered for the position.
On Jan. 12, less than a week after the additional New College BOT members were appointed, DeSantis ruled against allowing an Advanced Placement (AP) African-American studies course to be taught in Florida schools. DeSantis spokesman Bryan Griffin explained to CNN that the AP course “leaves large, ambiguous gaps that can be filled with additional ideological material, which we will not allow.”
In a letter to the College Board—the organization that oversees AP class curriculum—DeSantis stated, “should [the] College Board be willing to come back to the table with lawful, historically accurate content, FDOE [Florida Department of Education] will always be willing to reopen the discussion.”
To which, the College Board responded by cutting much of the course’s content and restructuring the curriculum.
In 2023, the Manatee County School District told all secondary schools to remove every one of their books, or at least restrict them, until each one can be vetted by government officials. WUSF was provided with a Manatee County School District document directing teachers and staff to “remove or cover all classroom libraries until all materials can be reviewed to ensure we are meeting rule 6A-7.0713 as identified in the FDOE Library Media Training.”
Teachers found with inappropriate books in their classroom libraries could face third-degree felony charges.
K-12 education isn’t the only branch being scrutinized by the governor. The DeSantis administration has explained that New College will be turned into “The Hillsdale of the south.”
Hillsdale is a small, private Christian liberal arts college. The school notably accepts no federal or state funding—including financial aid. The New York Times explained that the college relies partially on “donations from conservative benefactors that are fueled by aggressive fund-raising campaigns.”
DeSantis also intends on removing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)) from all public higher education institutions in Florida, stating at a press conference on Jan. 30 that, “We are going to eliminate all DEI and CRT [critical race theory] bureaucracies in the state of Florida.”
Meanwhile, staff and teacher shortage continues to worsen. The Florida Education Association (FEA), a statewide educator union, “tallied a total of 10,771 advertised vacancies, with 6,006 for teachers and 4,765 for support staff” within the state as of Sept. 2022, shortly after the Stop WOKE Act was signed into law in July.
In an effort to curb the teacher shortage, DeSantis has introduced the “Teacher’s Bill of Rights” on Jan. 23, which would provide an extra $200 million towards teacher salaries. However, this bill comes with new requirements on union collective bargaining for teachers, which would weaken the strength of teacher’s unions.
“This proposal will require school unions to represent at least 60% of employees eligible for representation, an increase over the current 50% threshold and allow state investigations into unions suspected of fraud, waste and abuse,” a Florida Government press release stated.
Requiring 60% of all eligible employees to be unionized in order for the union to have any collective bargaining power is a huge burden on unions, which would force them to up recruitment efforts. 50% or above is already the majority of eligible employees—but now, teacher unions that previously had success have absolutely no power to demand better pay, benefits or treatment unless they get that extra 10%. Depending on the district, this could mean hundreds of new members need to be recruited to maintain bargaining power.
While teachers struggle to maintain their labor rights, DeSantis ferociously pushes forward with more reform plans announced every day as he continues to make education his political playground.