TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to continue wielding his political influence in school board races across the state after his campaign helped two dozen conservative candidates win during this year’s midterm elections.
The Republican governor this week said he intends to flip more local seats from liberal to conservative-leaning education officials, taking aim at boards in areas such as Broward and Hillsborough counties that have pushed back against Republican policies.
Speaking at a school board training event he hosted in Orlando on Monday, DeSantis criticized “obnoxious” board members who went against the state and some parents by passing mask mandates for students amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
“For too long, these school boards have not reflected the values of the communities that they were supposedly elected to serve,” DeSantis said.
The event, dubbed the “Freedom Blueprint,” was led by DeSantis as a training day for school board members he endorsed this year and other potential candidates.
Some 150-200 people attended the training, which featured DeSantis and current and former education officials, including former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, according to a report from the Capitolist. Former state education commissioner Richard Corcoran and current commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. teamed up for one presentation on state laws while co-founders of Mom’s for Liberty, a conservative parents’ organization, spoke on empowering parents.
DeSantis backed 30 conservative local school board candidates in the 2022 elections, contributing to wins in 24 races that are already shaping policies and making leadership changes. He touted those successes on Monday and pledged to win more in the future, at one point asking the audience to suggest ideas for where to “flip” seats in 2024.
The governor has reshaped education in Florida in the past few years, pushing legislation like the Parental Rights in Education measure, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by opponents, that bars educators from leading classroom instructions on gender identity or sexual orientation for students through third grade. Such legislation has put Florida at the forefront of the culture wars throughout the nation ahead of DeSantis’ possible 2024 presidential bid.
The Republican governor’s political committee sent $1,000 to each of his endorsees, many of which also landed contributions from GOP lawmakers. But DeSantis said Monday that he also spent a combined $2.1 million helping school board candidates through text messages, mailers and robocalls.
“It wasn’t rocket science,” DeSantis said about electing conservative school board members.
“We were just educating our voters about who shared our values and who didn’t — that’s it. We were confident once they had that information, they were going to be able to make the right decisions.”
DeSantis also took aim at teachers unions during the event, advocating for the state Legislature to pass a bill that would change how educators pay their union dues. A frequent target for the governor, DeSantis has railed on how unions fought against reopening schools during the pandemic and supported student mask mandates.
He supports paycheck “protections” that would require teachers to pay their union dues directly instead of an automatic deduction from their checks. Lawmakers have considered this sort of legislation in the past, drawing opposition from Democrats and unions alike.
“That maximizes freedom to choose, and I think it’ll be a more accurate reflection of who actually wants to be a part of this or not,” DeSantis said.