Friday, May 26, 2023

FL: The Prequel To Moms For Liberty Is Resurrecting Itself

The Florida group that pitched itself as a conservative alternative the state school board association was an operation that featured many of Florida's busiest reformster activists. And it also featured some names now known for their work with Moms For Liberty. And this isn't just ancient history--the group is getting started up again.

The Florida Coalition of School Board Members Begins

Back in 2015 (right at the beginning of the year, because these grass roots things always organically begin at the start of the calendar year), four supporters of school choice decided it was time to bid adieu to the Florida School Board Association. They were unhappy with the actions of FSBA, particularly a lawsuit filed against the state's new voucher program. They set out to become a "financially responsible," grassroots group that supports school choice options including charter school and local control of education issues. ExcelinEd, Jeb Bush's reformster group, wrote a glowing profile under the headline "Choice for school board members comes to Florida.They guessed that they would have 40 or 50 members "right out of the gate," but they started out with just four:

Erika Donalds, (Collier County School Board), Jeff Bergosh, (Escambia County School Board), Shawn Frost, (Indian River County School Board), and Bridget Ziegler, (Sarasota County School Board). The articles of incorporation for the group are missing Donalds and instead include Linda Costello. Bergosh was the group's first president. Their first registered agent was Shawn Frost; his home address was given as the organization's address.

Out of the swamp it comes

Frost told a reporter that the group believed that FSBA dues should not be used for a lawsuit (they weren't). Said Ziegler, the coalition would rather see that money go to a classroom. 

The group was never going to meet that estimate of 40 or 50 members, but the handful of members were all well-connected major players. Other names that would be associated with the group include Rebecca Negron, Erik Robinson, and Anne Corcoran. Also, Tina Descovich. 

This is going to take some space, but understanding who these folks are really helps to clarify what kind of operation this is. And that matters because they are intending to relaunch--maybe even go national.

So who are these folks? Here are some of the names that turn up by surfing the wayback machine through old web pages for FCSBM as board members, some of who just pass through briefly.

Jeff Bergosh

The first President. Government contractor. Moved on to become county commissioner in 2016, and has stayed with the gig ever since. And he blogs. 

Nancy Stacy

A board member with a combative style, who was publicly accused of bullying a former ally. She also caught flack for some social media posts, like saying whores can't be victims of rape or "Set Bill Cosby free says this Mama Bear with sons."

Linda Costello

In 2012, the 63 year old grandma beat an incumbent for a school board seat in Volusia County. She believes in "God, greatness and going the extra mile." Husband Fred was a former mayor and a legislator; in 2016, when he decided to run again, she decided to step away from the school board post. Fred was on the Education Appropriations Committee and believed that “Education is the number one economic development tool.”

Anne Corcoran

She's married to Richard Corcoran, formerly a pro-privatization leading legislator, then transformed into a pro-privatization Education Commissioner. Then he got in trouble for bid-rigging and resigned. Then DeSantis put him in charge of New College, the liberal Florida college that DeSantis intends to turn into the Hillsdale of the South. Anne herself has been busy launching a charter school; her brother-n-law is a charter school lobbyist.

Rebecca Negron

Married to Joe Negron, a Florida senator who helped write the tax credit scholarship voucher bill. Lost a 2016 bid for Florida's 18th congressional district. Lost her school board seat in 2018 after spending a reported quarter million on the race

Eric Robinson

"The Prince of Dark Money," former GOP party chair, and the guy who lost a school board race even though he outspent his opponent $222K to $32K, and subject of more than a few investigations and allegations. 

Jason Fischer

Briefly a board member. Electrical engineer, Rotarian. Veteran. Ran successfully for the state house, started to run for Congress, and then dropped out to clear a path for Aaron Bean and instead ran for-- Duval County property assessor. With Ron DeSantis's endorsement. And then, just this week, he dropped out of that race. Gonna try for Congress again? Who knows, but clearly school boarding was not his big passion.

Erika Donalds

Donalds is a Tea Partier who used to be an investment banker in New York. Now she is a well-connected player in Florida.  She founded Parents' Rights of Choice for Kids (Parents ROCK). Her husband Byron Donalds is the legislator who gave Florida the law that says all textbooks must be "balanced" and that any taxpayer can challenge course content. Donalds is buds with Patty Levesque, the woman who has been Jeb Bush's right-hand woman on ed reform. 

Donalds landed a seat on the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, from which she helped launch Amendment 8, a three piece amendment that would have added civic education, term limits for school board members, and-- oh, yeah-- also a part that eviscerated school boards and allowed charters to do an end run around local voters so they could pick the taxpayers' pockets. Among her many groups was School Choice Movement, started concurrently with the DeSantis administration. In 2018, she was displaying the logo of the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity on her Collier 912 Freedom Council website. 

And she's the CEO of Optima Ed, a private ed biz that offers school management and works with a variety of partners, including Step Up For Students, the outfit that manages the money fueling school vouchers--and that outfit is chaired by John Kirtley, who reportedly runs DeVos-funded PACS  (included American Federation for Children) and who allegedly provided support for the FCSBM. Optima Ed also operates a chain of Hillsdale-powered charter schools; little wonder that she threw her weight behind Amendment 8's provision that charters be approved by the state and not local school boards.

I could call Donalds the face of charter schools in Florida, but Bridget Ziegler already did. There is a whole book to be written about Florida politicians married to women who are making money in the charter school biz.

Shawn Frost

Shawn Frost is this guy:

This particular Facebook post has since been removed, but it seems to capture Frost's special je ne sais quoi. I can personally attest to his feisty engagement style on social media. And lots of other folks have screen shots. He's pretty awful.

In 2014, Frost went after a seat on the  Indian River County School Board. Not just any seat--the seat of the then-head of FSBA. He wanted this seat, badly enough to leave his wife and children back in their home at Vero Beach, FL (the one he would use for FSCBM incorporation), and move into a room above his parents' garage to meet the residency requirements (all of this was hashed out in court, ultimately in Frost's favor).

Shawn Frost graduated from Eastern Oregon University in 2006 with a BS in Experimental Psychology and a minor in philosophy. Then he picked up an MBA from Florida's Nova Southeastern University (website text- "Prepare To Dominate") and then he taught high school science for just two years at Sebastian River High School, a high-rated IBS school. There he did things like "leveraged personal network to create 'wow factor' learning experiences" and "conducted customer focus groups and survey research on student motivators and created a 'meritocracy based' incentives program." And then he got out of the classroom and back into corporate marketing work. He's also a senior strategy consultant with MVP Strategy and Policy, a group that specializes in helping with school board races. Frost once taught a class based on The Art of War. I find no evidence that he was TFA, but he certainly fits the profile, and he does love to say that he was a classroom teacher (without mentioning that his "career" lasted two years. Frost has been (according to Facebook) a marine, a science teacher, and a senior project manager at EFront, a software learning management system. And according to that ExcelinEd piece,, he works with business start-ups.

How did this guy win a school board race for a district in which he didn't actually live? 

With some pricey help. Here's how the Indian River Guardian reported on the race:

Frost, a newcomer to local politics with some questionable residency qualifications, (See: Frost says he is living in garage apartment at his father’s house in District 1), defeated Brombach 54 percent to 46 percent. In addition to being helped by local, though nationally funded, attacks on Brombach, Frost was helped by a flood of additional attack mailers, all paid for by the Florida Federation for Children. More outside help came from individual contributors to Frost’s campaign. Some two thirds of the direct contributions to Frost’s campaign were from out-of-state donors. In the reporting period ending August 18, Frost raised $6,340, $5,500 from out of state contributors, including several described as “venture capitalists.”

By later in August, he had pulled $20K from the American Federation of Children, the group that, in 2014, was still being run by Betsy DeVos, was tied closely to ALEC, and was funding reformy candidates left and right. Well, actually, only right. 

Then came the launch of FCSBM. In 2017, Frost announced that he would not seek another term on the school board-- because he has bigger targets in mind-- he wanted to be appointed to the state Board of Education.

That didn't happen, but Frost kept plugging away. He ran for vice-chair of the Florida GOP at the same time that Christian Ziegler (husband of Bridget) ran for chair. Ziegler won; Frost did not. He kept pushing the same issues. He was the campaign manager for the 2020 Congressional run of Erika Donalds' husband. 

And as of 2021, he has a new slice of his consulting/PR/etc firm-- Logos To Eyeballs Media, filing in March of 2021 with an address that appears to be a residence in Vero Beach. The website is, at present, just a front page with dead tabs. Must be doing okay, though, because during his run for the vice-chair spot, Frost pledged that through the company he was "committing to provide $335,000 in support for Republican outreach to youth, minorities and religious voters." Not sure where that project stands. Surely it wasn't just a campaign promise.

“I serve a big God and am blessed to be in a position to give back, but it really isn’t giving back because all of the money is God’s, all of the titles and power are God’s, all of the glory should go to God,” he said.

“I am fortunate to have a front-row seat to history and simply want to do my part to serve my Country, the Free State of Florida, and the Republican Party. I work for free, I work for God, and I always have enough.”

Depending on which account one reads, either Frost or Donalds was the driving force behind FCSBM. But for the next chapter, Frost appears to be taking the lead. And we'll get to that in a bit.

What about those other two members?

Bridget Ziegler. Ziegler squeaked out a victory for Sarasota School Board in 2018. Ron DeSantis thinks she's swell. And she's married to Christian Ziegler, who decided in mid-2022 not to run for re-election to a county commissioner seat because he'll be busy helping his wife and DeSantis each run their own campaigns (that and new rules that would have made it harder for him to win).

Christian Ziegler told the Washington Post that he has been "trying for a dozen years to get 20- and 30-year old females involved with the Republican Party, and it was a heavy lift to get that demographic. But now Moms for Liberty has done it for me." That was in October of 2021, when Ziegler's involvement had gone quiet; Tim Craig at WaPo reported that Ziegler's wife was "loosely" connected to Moms For Livberty--not that she was a co-founder of this group that emerged to accomplish just what Ziegler had long searched for a tool to accomplish.

Christian Ziegler's Microtargeted Media ("We do digital and go after people on their phones") was a big player in the 2020 Florida race, on the ground for Trump and other GOP candidates. He pulled in $300K from a Trump-related PAC. He was once a Heritage Foundation Fellow. He's buddies with Corey Lewandowski. He appears to be behind the Protect Wyoming Values PAC (a Trump anti-Liz Cheney proxy), Governor Kristi Noem's election integrity website, and a bunch of other conservative Trump-backing websites. He was at Trump's January 6 rally.

And in February, after had been "effectively... campaigning for the job for years," Christian Ziegler was elected Florida's GOP party chair. Meanwhile, Bridget Ziegler is helping the right-wing Leadership Institute train school board candidates nationally.

Tina Descovitch ran for Brevard County School Board in 2016, with a signature issue of her opposition to Common Core. Descovitch ran on two decades in business and a degree in Communications, as well as serving on the executive staff of a US Army Commanding General. She won that election overwhelmingly, taking 48% of the vote in a primary election field of four. Then she lost in 2020. She stayed active in local school politics; after a big dustup over LGBTQ+ policy in Brevard County, she was mailed an envelope full of poop.

While Ziegler often mentions founding FCSBM in her public facing bio material, she's left it off her LinkedIn. It's not clear when she departed the group. In 2018, she had succeeded Donalds and Frost as president of the board. 2018 is also the first year that Descovich is listed as a board member.

In November of 2018, Jeffrey Solochek (a dynamite Florida education reporter) at the Tampa Bay Times asked "Whither the Florida Coalition of School Board Members?" Don't worry, emailed Erika Donalds (who with Frost and Negron was now out of the school board biz)-- Tina Descovich is going to be the new chief, the group's going to do cool stuff, new slate of members,we'll be back with a hot new website soon. "New members, new energy — exciting times."

Then in 2019, the board listing page is 404, though in that year they appear to have handed out some "fighting for kids" awards to folks like Senator Manny Diaz and Byron Donalds. By 2020, the entire website is dark. 

The group had had a good run, with plenty of lobbying and advocacy and connecting with legislators over their conservative goals for education. But for whatever reason (perhaps the requirement that one be an elected school board member to belong), they had run out of steam.

And on May 20, 2020, Descovich (as president) and Ziegler file for voluntary dissolution of the group. 

About that Moms For Liberty Origin Story

The standard origin story of Moms for Liberty is that right on January 1, 2021, two moms just kind of got together-- Tiffany Justice from Vero Beach, and Tina Descovich. Just two moms, upset about masking, gathered around the kitchen table. Hey, maybe they could fund raise by selling t-shirts!

That's not the actual origin story. The story is that Ziegler and Descovich spent a few years in a faux grass roots organization with typical right-wing goals for education (more vouchers, local control, etc), working side by side with a bunch of well-connected GOP activists. When that group folded, a few months later, Descovich, Ziegler and Justice started working on a new right-wing activism project that would not require members to stay elected to school board positions. 

Nobody picks up on this. Ziegler was successfully memory-holed. Justice and Descovich are presented as moms or, at most, former school board members-- never as seasoned GOP activists who had just finished their time on another similar right-tilted education activism group. It's no wonder they were able to hit the ground running and become a well-connected oft-promoted group--they were not starting from scratch.

The coalition is not done--they wanted to go national

There is still more to the story of the Florida Coalition of School Board Members. 

First, in 2021, the coalition attempted to go national as the Conservative School Board Member Coalition

The left has enjoyed its monopoly in education for too long at the national level and now a familiar voice in Florida has entered the national conversation. FCSBM went dark so that we could focus on other conservative causes, but the conditions created by this current administration DEMAND that we band together and share the 7+ years of experience we have with our Conservative brothers and sisters around the country.

The group filed in September of 2021 as a Florida Domestic Non-profit Corporation, with Shawn Frost as its registered agent at a Vero Beach address. Frost is listed as president, with Joe Arnold and Eric Robinson as directors. 

There's a website address listed on their promo page, but don't bother--there's nothing there. The couple of pages for the CSBMC are hosted on the website of Shawn Frost's Logos To Eyeballs website (which is in turn hosted by Kartra). The pitch promises free membership for the rest of 2022 if you sign up before CPAC Orlando ends. The application form is still live-ish. There are supposed to be videos, one featuring "our first round table discussion" with "School Board Member Bridget Ziegler and Former School Board Members Tina Descovich and Tiffany Justice." It's not there. Neither is the welcome video from the organization's president-- Shawn Frost, "President, Conservative School Board Member Coalition, former Chairman and Board Member of Indian River County , Florida, School Board, Past President Florida Coalition of School Board Members (FCSBM)"

Core values? Parental rights are sovereign. Teacher historically accurate founding of America. No racism (aka no crt). Fiscal transparency and accountability. Individual members control where their dues go. 

The group has an address, but for mail only ("We have minimal staff as fiscal conservatives"). There's a phone number, but USPhoneBook reverse lookup finds no such number. The group touts endorsements from Joe Arnold, Eric Robinson, Erika Donalds, and Shawn Frost. 

However, CSBMC seems to have experienced a failure to launch. But Frost wasn't ready to give up yet.

Trying it one more time--back to Florida

In December of 2022, Frost filed again--this time it was the Florida Conservative Coalition of School Board Members. Frost is the registered agent; the three board members are Jill Woolbright, Jessie Thompson, and April Carney. Nobody is listed as president. 

Carney was the DeSantis-endorsed candidate in Duval, and a Frost client in the 2022 campaign that saw the accusation that she had been at the capital on January 6. Woolbright is a school board member who called the sheriff to file a criminal complaint over a book; she lost in 2022. Thompson was endorsed by many GOP right wingers, including Byron Daniels and DeSantis.She ran an anti-indoctrination campaign.

FCCSBM drew some press for its "relaunch" announcing Thompson as president after an organizational convention in February. Marked as a "political consultant" that the coalition will work with, Frost promised a softer version in the relaunch:

“One thing that’s different is that we are not attacking the FSBA, we don’t ask our members to decide between the two,” said Frost, a former CEO and past president of the Coalition. “We just want to support growing our members’ leadership abilities and connections so that they can stand together and fight for our shared core values.”

And Donalds was also on hand to cheer the group on while also providing some of the training at that first meeting:

“I love that they are unapologetically conservative and put it right there in the name,” said Donalds, who led the collective bargaining training. “I’m excited to see what this group accomplishes.”

Carey noted that "it was just so obvious that there is a need for a place to get professional development without the spin and indoctrination found in other groups. Among my friends here at FCCSBM, we can be ourselves."

In February, they announced an intention to hold more events in March and April. They don't have a website (they've got an address hosted by kartra, but nothing there), but they do have a Facebook page, currently with six posts. From those we can see that the group has five or six members, that they attended the DeSantis Freedom Blueprint Summit, that they once got their picture taken with Manny Diaz, and that they got some training on "education freedom" from Erika Donalds and John Kirtley--all of that posted on April 28. 

Their Twitter presence (@FCSBM-- "Leading Better and Standing Together) is a bit busier, with 338 followers--but that's the legacy account of the original group and nothing has been posted there since September 2019. 

It's always possible that FCCSBM is just doing all sorts of stuff under the radar, but they haven't had a stirred a single online ripple since their big launch. 

That's it for now

That's a lot of story, and if nothing else, it captures how much the right-wing privatizer community is so intertwined with itself. The same folks, over and over. More chapters to come, I'm sure, starting with the one in which we see if Candidate DeSantis is the wind beneath their wings or the millstone around their neck. After all, education privatization was welded onto another governor with Presidential dreams, and that didn't end well. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

  1. Update on Jason Fischer: the link is to a 2022 story. He continued in the race for property appraiser in Duval County and was defeated May 16, 2023. He got desperate in the end and tried to play the culture wars, which led to a lot of head-scratching because what does anti-woke, CRT outrage, and anti-LGBTQ have to do with determining the taxable value of property? While on the board, he was their rep to the committee that heard appeals from property owners challenging their assessments. He didn't bother going to the meetings. After his school board stint, he claimed education as his area of expertise. Corcoran put him on the legislative committees, but the next House Speaker kicked him off. Jason Fischer = a non-serious man trying to be a politician but seen as an unqualified toady. Currently, after his defeat, he is now out of office.