By LINDA CHION KENNEY
The mitts are off in these contentious times over state versus local control of education, and especially so in Florida, where a survey released on behalf of Gov. Ron DeSantis makes it clear that he has his eye on local school board candidates — and where their allegiances lie.
Launched by his re-election campaign this month, the “DeSantis Education Agenda Survey” carries notice that the initiative is “Paid by Ron DeSantis, Republican, For Governor.”
Respondents are asked to fill out the survey to the best of their abilities, and that they will be graded “automatically.” In return for a perfect score of 100 percent, the instrument notes respondents “will be given the ability to pledge [their] support to the Governor DeSantis Education Agenda.”
What follows are a series of five questions each for three categories that are defined with the headings, “student success,” “parental rights” and “curriculum transparency.”
While the majority of questions require true-or-false answers, there are some questions that require a video or text answer, such as, “What should your school district do to better prepare students as citizens” and “How will you protect a parent’s right to publicly disagree with their school board.”
Also, among the open-ended questions, survey respondents are asked, “How will you ensure curriculum transparency in your school district” and “How do you think Governor DeSantis’s commitment to school choice initiatives will impact your school district.” Also questioned is, “How will you ensure your school district is closing student achievement gaps and meeting progress monitoring goals to guarantee students are reaching their highest potential.”
The rest of the survey allows for only a “yes” or “no” answer, with no wiggle-room for context or further explanation.
Under student success, respondents are asked if they support the governor’s “efforts to fund workforce, career and technical” and his “increases in teacher compensation.” Also, if Florida students should be “subjected to long-term school closures or forced masking.”
Under parental rights, the yes-or-no questioning asks respondents if they “support a parent’s right to know what their child is being taught in the classroom” and if parents should “have the right to choose the best education options for their child regardless of their income or ZIP code.” Also questioned is the respondent’s support of the governor’s “school safety measures, like the Aaron Feis Guardian Program, which arms highly trained school personnel who can respond in the event of a school shooting.”
Finally, in the area of curriculum transparency, yes-or-no questioning asks respondents if they believe critical race theory belongs in Florida’s K-12 public education classrooms, if students “should be educated and not indoctrinated” and if “school districts should promote and encourage school choice within their jurisdictions and should not stand in the way of charter schools.” A final question asks if the respondent supports the governor’s efforts “to require students to learn about the horrors of communism.”
The survey makes it clear that completing the “DeSantis Education Agenda Survey does not authorize any school candidate or member to represent that Governor DeSantis endorses or supports such candidate or member and should not be treated as such.”
Meanwhile, state lawmakers earlier this year passed House Bill 14676, which DeSantis signed in March and that imposes 12-year term limits on school board members.
“I’m a big believer in term limits,” DeSantis reportedly said. “But you don’t always have to wait for that. You can throw the bums out in the election.”
In his race for re-election, DeSantis faces former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Democrat. Crist had harsh words for the survey, saying “there are no limits” to the governor’s “authoritarian impulses.”
“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,” Crist reportedly said, in an email when asked about the survey. “Florida deserves a governor who understands and values freedom, and that’s not Governor DeSantis.”