In ‘unprecedented’ move, Gov. DeSantis gets involved in school board races, backs 3 local candidates

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is getting more involved in local school board races across the state by endorsing candidates.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis is getting more involved in local school board races across the state by endorsing candidates.

He released a survey recently gauging candidates’ stances on face masks, charter schools, critical race theory and more.

The survey is essentially a litmus test for any school board hopeful who wants to secure Gov. DeSantis’s endorsement.

The pledge specifically says the candidate will, “Reject lockdowns, increase teacher pay, and reject critical race theory.”

The online survey checks where candidates stand on hot-button issues raised by the DeSantis administration over the last two years.

Though the website makes clear that just by taking the survey the candidate is not securing the governor’s endorsement, it does pose questions using his signature campaign language.

For example, questions like, “Do you agree that students should be educated and not indoctrinated?” accepts only a “yes” or “no” answer. Other questions prompt survey-takers to respond in writing or with a recorded video answer.

“How will you protect a parent’s right to publicly disagree with their school board?” another question asks.

Michael Binder, a professor of political science at the University of North Florida, said the move is “unprecedented” but it continues a nationwide trend of politicizing local schools.

“Suddenly, school board races, which are nonpartisan here in Duval County, typically don’t get a ton of attention. They kind of fly under the radar. But there have been political efforts on both sides of the aisle to get Democrats and Republicans elected. This is a big shift,” Binder said.

Binder said because of an iron-clad term of service at the beginning of the survey participants are agreeing to let the governor’s campaign use any video, audio or anything they submit for whatever the governor wants.

“Now, you’ve got folks that have in writing or on video said I am going to do ‘x.’ If a year from now, that person then does ‘y,’ you now have readymade campaign material to go after them in the next election,” Binder said. “Additionally, you’ve now got folks if they get elected, that can feel indebted to you that now you’ve got folks that say, wow, I’m only here because of Governor DeSantis.”

Some voters News4JAX spoke to said they do not like the idea of state officials getting involved in local elections.

“I don’t feel that the governor has any place,” said Larry Yudin, a former educator and Duval County voter. “Trying to gauge what possible candidates, how they think, regardless of their political affiliation, you know. And I would think the same thing if it were a Democratic governor as well.”

DeSantis hand-picked 10 candidates in seven different school districts across the state in his first round of endorsements released Monday. Each one of those seven districts is among those that disobeyed the governor’s ban on mask mandates.

Three of the candidates he calls “pro-parent” are from Northeast Florida.

DeSantis endorsed Duval County School Board member Charlotte Joyce who is running against Tanya Hardaker in District 6.

DeSantis also endorsed April Carney who is running against incumbent board member Elizabeth Andersen in District 2.

Andersen issued a statement to News4JAX: “Introducing Washington-style party politics into school board decisions will not further a quality education for our children. The Duval County school board works well together, moving the district to just a fraction below an “A” rating. A School Board divided over party politics will not advance public education, it will only turn our school children into political pawns.”

DeSantis also endorsed Alachua County School Board member Mildred Russell who he appointed to that position last year. Russell is running in District 2 against Diyonne McGraw who was removed by DeSantis last year after it was found McGraw did not live in her district.

News4JAX attempted to contact all the local candidates, but not all immediately responded.

“We need strong local school board members who are committed to advancing our agenda to put students first and protect parents’ rights,” DeSantis said in a Facebook post.