The Bottom Line Governor DeSantis: The Nation’s Top Education Change AgentOriginally published at The Washington Times
In his recently released No. 1 bestselling book, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis writes: “During times of turmoil, people want leaders who are willing to speak the truth, stand for what is right, and demonstrate the courage necessary to lead.”
For the Sunshine State’s chief executive, this isn’t just rhetoric. Under DeSantis’ leadership, Florida has become a standout in championing citizens over corporations, character over cultural contagions, and civics over Critical Race Theory (CRT).
An overarching goal for DeSantis is protecting and preserving freedom for Florida residents. A clear example of this was his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. But his efforts to secure educational freedom for the state and other far-reaching education reforms may be his most lasting legacy due to the scope of the transformative measures.
In 2019, DeSantis enacted the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program, geared toward low-income families, to respond to the extensive waitlist for the state’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program.
Resting on his laurels would have been easy, but that’s not DeSantis’ style. Instead, in his 2022 reelection bid, the governor committed to making school choice universal in Florida.
He quickly delivered on that promise. Three months into his new term, he signed into law House Bill 1, expanding the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program to all 3.5 million K-12 students statewide.
This universal education savings account program provides families with up to $8,000 per student per year to allocate toward the education-related expenses of their choosing. As a result of this action, Florida ranks first overall for education freedom, according to the Education Freedom Report Card.
The measure was also the first step toward deregulating public schools. It provides model legislation that other states should follow to remove obstacles in improving their educational performance.
In March 2022, DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education bill into law, which “reinforces parents’ fundamental rights to make decisions regarding the upbringing of their children.”
As a result of his ability to execute his sound vision, Florida is leading the nation in three essential arenas — educational freedom, school choice, and parental rights. But it doesn’t stop there. On DeSantis’ watch, Florida now has K-12 curriculum transparency so that parents and other guardians can know what is being taught to their children.
In addition, in K-12 classrooms, DeSantis has eliminated the promotion of CRT and ensured that students are taught civics and about the U.S. Constitution. In his words:
We will not allow our schools to be captive to an ideological agenda, and we have eliminated Critical Race Theory in our K-12 schools. We’re not teaching kids to hate our country or to hate each other with your tax dollars. We are going to embrace, and we have embraced, a renewed emphasis on American civics. We need to teach our students what it means to be an American.Governor Ron DeSantis
Furthermore, DeSantis has worked to prevent the advancement of a radical agenda regarding human sexuality in schools. House Bill 1069, passed by the House 77-35 in March and the Senate 27-12 on May 3, when signed, will protect parental rights by banning sexual identity and gender orientation lessons at school, not just from kindergarten to third grade but from pre-K to eighth grade. In addition, K-12 school employees cannot ask students to provide preferred pronouns nor share their preferred pronouns with students that do not correspond to their biological sex.
DeSantis is safeguarding children from pornography. For example, House Bill 1069 will require books with pornographic material or books that describe or depict sexual activity to be removed within five days. DeSantis is also a protector of girls’ and women’s sports. On June 1, 2021, DeSantis signed a “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” which bans biological males from playing on female athletic teams.
He helped pass the largest teacher pay increase in Florida history and passed payroll protection to ensure teachers are not forced to give money to the teachers unions.
At the higher education level, DeSantis is committed to eliminating diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) directors and departments in the Florida public university system. With taxpayer money, they seek to intentionally divide students, promote CRT practices, and prioritize race and gender over merit. As the governor rightly notes, as practiced, DEI more accurately stands for “discrimination, exclusion, and indoctrination,” which he says has “no place in education institutions.”
DeSantis has also put into place a tenure review process in the public university system. Tenured professors must undergo a performance review every five years, which can be the basis for dismissal.
DeSantis has earned the rank as the nation’s top education change agent among his many other achievements as governor. Other governors should emulate his example of courageous leadership and enact Florida’s education model legislation. Florida provides an excellent example of how effective leadership can preserve and even advance freedom.