WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — With Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis officially in the race for president, WPTV is taking a deeper look at his education policies — some of which have been his most controversial — to see how they would stack up nationally.
Restricting discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity and targeting critical race theory are just some of what DeSantis would call his victories over the past few years.
But not everyone would agree.
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“We’ve had a few decades now of fundamental changes in education in Florida, but no one has moved as hard or as fast as Ron DeSantis,” WPTV political analyst Brian Crowley said.
Crowley said the two-term Republican governor is known across the country for his aggressive approach to education reform.
“Ron DeSantis made it clear that if he becomes president, he plans to bring these reforms nationwide,” Crowley said. “Use the power of the federal dollar, federal grants, and even accreditation of colleges as a way of enforcing his agenda for how he wants to make schools more conservative and, in his view, back to basic learning.”
Some of DeSantis’ decisions have been celebrated across party lines, like eliminating Common Core standards.
But the culture wars have caused a divide.
“When you vilify teachers and staff, when you limit their ability to do what they know is best for students, they’re not going to stay,” said Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association.
Spar said much of the contentious legislation in Florida is leading to a critical teacher shortage.
But Moms For Liberty member Jennifer Pippin supports the governor’s moves.
“This is great for education. It’s great for parental rights,” Pippin said. “I absolutely think he will take his policies and the things he’s been advocating for nationwide.”
But will it work?
The non-profit free speech organization PEN America researched what it called “educational gag orders” in August of 2022, looking at legislative efforts to restrict teaching certain topics.
The study showed 36 different states introduced 137 of these bills in 2022. But only six states passed them.
“There’s some really huge changes underway, and I think in some of those states that are very cautious about those changes, Ron DeSantis is going to have to be very careful if he wins the nomination to bring those people to his side,” Crowley said.
And decide what direction they want for our nation’s schools.
“We’re suddenly hearing Donald Trump talk a little bit more about the anti-woke issues and other conservative issues that were not big on his agenda when he first ran, or when he ran in 2020,” Crowley said. “But he understands this is a hot button issue among hardcore conservatives.”