TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Democratic Party this week endorsed a slate of 18 school board candidates as a direct response to Gov. Ron DeSantis throwing his political weight into getting more conservatives elected to local posts during the midterms.
The move, among the first major actions taken by Democrats on the local education front that Republicans have seized on, draws clear lines in what have historically been non-partisan races.
Between the two sets of dueling endorsements, there are currently seven school board races pitting candidates backed by DeSantis against those supported by Democrats.
Florida’s school board elections are set to play out on Aug. 23.
“Education is supposed to be a ladder to the future for our kids,” Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz said in a statement Monday. “However, it seems that the only future Ron DeSantis cares about is his own.”
Education has emerged as a leading issue approaching the 2022 midterms since Virginia GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin tapped into parental frustration and anger over Covid-19 rules to help propel him to the governor’s mansion last year.
The Florida GOP, led DeSantis, for weeks have been donating cash to conservatives in local school board races, donations capped off by 29 endorsements from the Republican governor to candidates who share their platform. That agenda includes bolstering parental rights and ramping up transparency surrounding what students are learning in school, namely on the topics of race, gender identity and sexual orientation, which have been targeted in recent legislation.
DeSantis highlighted the importance of school board races last month at a Republican Party of Florida summit at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood.
“We have a chance to even have supermajorities in the state Legislature, and we have an opportunity to win many, many school board seats, which are very, very important,” DeSantis told the audience.
Democrats, meanwhile, are trying to hit DeSantis on education by drawing attention to the teacher shortage gripping Florida and student test scores that show a drop off since the pandemic.
And campaign finance reports show Democrats, along with unions, are also funneling cash to their preferred local school board candidates, although not at the clip seen by Republicans so far.
In one race, the Hillsborough County Democratic Party gave $10,000 to Damaris Allen, who was endorsed this week in her race against a candidate backed by DeSantis, Stacy Hahn.
A political committee tied to the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, gave $1,000 to two candidates endorsed by Democrats: Karen Perez in Hillsborough and Sarah Rockwell in Alachua. The FEA committee also donated to school board candidates in Broward, Palm Beach and Polk counties, records show.
“Florida’s public education system needs help right now,” Diaz said. “Our governor is playing politics with our children.”
Here are the seven local school board races featuring candidates endorsed by DeSantis and Democrats:
Hillsborough District 2:
Damaris Allen (Endorsed by Democrats) vs. Stacy Hahn (Endorsed by DeSantis)
Hillsborough District 6:
Karen Perez (Endorsed by Democrats) vs. Aly Legge (Endorsed by DeSantis)
Alachua District 2:
Diyonne McGraw (Endorsed by Democrats) vs. Mildred Russell (Endorsed by DeSantis)
Indian River District 2
Cindy Gibbs (Endorsed by Democrats) vs. Jacqueline Rosario (Endorsed by DeSantis)
Lee District 5
Gwynetta Gittens (Endorsed by Democrats) vs. Armor Persons (Endorsed by DeSantis)
Miami Dade District 4
Maribel Balbin (Endorsed by Democrats) vs. Roberto Alonso (Endorsed by DeSantis)
Volusia District 5
Ruben Colon (Endorsed by Democrats) vs. Fred Lowry (Endorsed by DeSantis)