DeSantis focuses on education agenda during inaugural conservative summit in Tampa

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis focused on his education agenda during a speech in front of the Moms for Liberty National Summit in Tampa on Friday. 

"The bureaucracy in this county has gotten things wrong time and time and time again across so many subject matters," DeSantis said. 

The governor had a receptive audience as he emphasized the "significant impact" school board elections have on families.

"We have drawn a very clear line in the sand that says our school system is for educating kids not indoctrinating kids," he said. "We’ve also drawn a clear line to say parents have a fundamental role in the education of their kids."  

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The governor also spent considerable time attacking Critical Race Theory, or CRT, and gender issues in the classroom. He also reminded the crowd of his spat with Disney, one of the state's most powerful companies, over the Parental Rights in Education bill.

"Disney is not going to have its own government, they're going to live under the same laws as everyone else, and they're going to pay their fair share of taxes," DeSantis said. 

Moms for Liberty is a group that started in opposition to pandemic restrictions and school mask mandates. It was formed by two former Florida school board members. The organization has since grown to over 100,000 members.  

The governor's wife, Florida first lady Casey DeSantis, also spoke to attendees. 

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"Transparency in education, that's a big deal. When I go around and I talk to mamas across the state, they want to know what's being taught in their classroom," Casey DeSantis said, adding that principals and teachers "can be held accountable if they're not being transparent in what their children are learning."

The event is being held at the Marriott Water Street in downtown Tampa through the weekend. Across the street at the JW Marriott hotel, separated by a pedestrian bridge, the Florida Democratic Party this weekend is hosting its annual "Leadership Blue" event.

Florida Democratic Chairman Manny Diaz and other party officials held a news conference Friday to respond to DeSantis’ remarks, blasting the governor’s efforts to shape the makeup of school boards.

"It isn’t about the kids. It’s about an obsession with power. And the clearest example of that … is the fact that they are actually putting up Republicans to go against Republicans. They’re not just challenging Democrats. If there’s a Republican that they don’t like, like in Miami for example, they are actually finding candidates to go against their own people," Diaz said.

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Several Democrats disputed that Republicans are employing "grassroots" strategies to get more conservatives elected.

"When you look at who comes and protests, and who’s causing a scene [at school board meetings], it is a tiny minority of people in the state of Florida," said Scott Hottenstein, president of the Democratic Public Education Caucus of Florida. "The overwhelming majority of parents in Florida love their local public school. Ninety percent or more choose their neighborhood public schools."

The Moms for Liberty summit is slated to feature several high-profile conservative speakers, such as U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and 2016 Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.