Friday, September 2, 2022

FL: DeSantis Grabbing Power Over School Boards

The first shoe almost--almost--made sense when it dropped.

First  the Marjory Stoneman Douglass School Safety Commission determined that Broward County school leaders had done a lousy job of following effective security policies. Because, of course, they certainly weren't going to find any issues with the easy access for guns and ammo for the shooter. Thump.

I care this much.
That was 2019. But other shoes were going to drop, and the next one was the unusually-convened Twentieth Statewide Grand Jury, which later recommended that board members be suspended due to "incompetence, neglect of duty, and misuse of authority." Thump. 

So last week, Governor Ron DeSantis decided to "suspend" four Broward board members from office. That (thump) gave DeSantis the appointment of five members of a nine member board in a Democratic-leaning county. But it turns out that he was suspending them over a broader scope of actions:

The governor said "students continue to be educated in unsafe, aging, decrepit moldy buildings that were supposed to have been renovated years ago. These are inexcusable actions by school board members who have shown a pattern of emboldening unacceptable behavior, including fraud and mismanagement across the district."

This is a three-fer for DeSantis. He gets to look like he's all about Protecting The Children, while tossing out some elected Democrats (effectively silencing the voters who elected them), and furthering the whole "public schools can't be trusted" narrative. Plus, he avoids doing anything like sending resources or money to help alleviate any of these issues. He just sends in some more of his crew to take over. (For an extraordinarily thorough look at the Broward issues, read this piece from Kathryn Joyce)

And there are still more shoes. Although the latest shoe dropped on Monday, it seems to only just now be making it into the press. And by now, I mean Friday afternoon when nobody is paying to much attention to plummeting footwear. 

That grand jury report painted a target on four other school districts, giving the state department of education a reason to send letters to those districts asking for in-person meetings due to the "gravity of the issues." The districts are Duval, Orange, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach (Broward got a letter, too). 

“We have reason to believe that some of the policies and actions the grand jury found are ongoing and require immediate action,” all five letters dated Monday say.

Gee. What immediate action could they mean? Rushing assistance and resources to the district? Or maybe having the governor personally take replace the democratically elected boards with his own people? Thump.

It would be the next logical step in Florida, where virtually every state-level education position has been filled with an anti-public ed privatization fan and he's filled the advocacy space with more of the same, plus the Moms for Liberty campaign operation. There isn't much left to do except take over the local boards (which, writer Billy Townsend correctly notes have been stripped of much of their power already). So why not go after five of the six largest districts in the state? Why not go after school districts like Duval and Miami-Dade and Orange that have dared to defy him before? 

DeSantis has also been trying to do it the old-fashioned way--by getting his hand picked, governor-backed candidates elected. That was successful in many places, including Miami-Dade. But it didn't work everywhere. And really--isn't it easier and quicker to just throw out the board members you don't like and replace them with people from your own team, democracy be damned?

It has long been fashion on the far right to accuse Democrats of using school shootings as a tool to grab political power, so there's a certain ironic genius is DeSantis flipping the script and using the Parkland killings as an excuse to go after school boards. And even if (and it's a big, size 15 if) DeSantis 's concern is real and the districts are dangerously lax in "security," whatever that might mean, is having the government replace a duly-elected board the best way to fix that problem? Better than, say, help and resources from the state? Is this the situation that meets the threshhold of, "Yeah, we'll just have to override democracy now"?

Give DeSantis credit for his multi-tasking skills; both dismantling and taking over public education at the same time. If I were a parent in Florida, or just a person interested in living in an educated society, I'd be plenty worried about what will happen to the tattered remains of public education in Florida if DeSantis manages to consolidate his control over every level of it. Thump. Thump. Thump. 

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