Florida governor's campaign wants school board candidates to pledge support for 'DeSantis Education Agenda'

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ political campaign this week launched a questionnaire designed to gauge how closely local school board candidates align with the Republican leader’s educational priorities.

The campaign is sending what it calls the "DeSantis Education Agenda" survey to school board candidates. The questionnaire also provides the opportunity for candidates to sign a certificate pledging their support for the governor’s agenda. According to DeSantis' campaign, the questionnaire is not intended to be completed by people who aren't school board candidates. But the campaign is encouraging parents to evaluate whether such candidates' views line up with DeSantis’ priorities.

As conservatives around the country are placing increased emphasis on school board races, DeSantis — widely viewed as a potential Republican candidate for president in 2024 — appears to be building a roster of local candidates that he can endorse.

"The DeSantis Education Agenda is a student-first, parent-centered initiative focused on setting Florida’s children up for success, ensuring parental rights in education, and combatting the woke agenda from infiltrating public schools," a description on DeSantis’ reelection campaign website says. "This statewide agenda is for school board candidates and school board members who are committed to advancing these priorities at the local school board level."

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Before filling out the survey, respondents are first prompted with notices advising that candidates’ responses can be used by the Ron DeSantis for Governor campaign for political ads and other materials.

"Note: Completing the DeSantis Education Agenda Survey does not authorize any school board candidate or member to represent that Governor DeSantis endorses or supports such candidate or member and should not be treated as such," another notice says.

The survey’s questions reflect some of DeSantis’ most high-profile policy positions, some of which have resulted in legislation that has sparked tense debates and garnered national media attention.

"Does CRT (critical race theory) belong in K-12 public education classrooms in Florida?" one question probes.

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Some questions prompt the respondent to record a video answering the question or provide a written answer.

"How will you protect a parent’s right to publicly disagree with their school board?" one such question asks.

Another question asks if Florida students should "be locked out of school or subjected to forced masking," an issue the governor has made a cornerstone of his approach to education.

The DeSantis administration’s clashes with school boards reached a fever pitch during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the governor pushed to block districts from enacting mask mandates at the beginning of the last academic year.

The DeSantis campaign questionnaires come as Florida school board members for the first time face term limits.

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State lawmakers earlier this year passed a measure (HB 1467) that will impose 12-year limits on school board members, a proposal DeSantis emphatically endorsed and signed.

"I’m a big believer in term limits. But you don’t always have to wait for that," DeSantis said during a bill-signing event in March. "You can throw the bums out in the election."

DeSantis’ campaign survey also includes a section entitled "Parental Rights," which has become an educational cause celebre for the governor and other Republicans nationally. The new law that caps school board members’ terms also will increase parental involvement in the process of selecting books and materials for classrooms, an outgrowth of DeSantis targeting what he calls "indoctrination" in schools.

"Do you support a parent’s right to know what their child is being taught in the classroom?" a survey question asks.

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Prospective board members also are asked about their position on school choice initiatives and charter schools. Other questions posed to school board candidates ask if they support DeSantis’ efforts to fund workforce, career and technical education programs, and how candidates will work to close student achievement gaps.

The survey drew criticism from U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, a Democrat who also is running for governor this year. Crist blasted the questionnaire as an effort to "politicize" classrooms.

"There are no limits to Governor DeSantis’s authoritarian impulses," Crist said in an email when asked about the survey. "Whether limiting Florida families' access to life saving vaccines for kids under five, building his own militia, or trying to hand-pick school board members to politicize Florida’s classrooms — his extremism is on full display every day. Florida deserves a governor who understands and values freedom — and that’s not Governor DeSantis."