March 23, 2023

As he “actively” prepares for a presidential run, Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL) announced Tuesday that he plans to defund diversity, equity and inclusion programs in every public university in the state. 

The plan is part of the Republican governor’s larger plot to remake the Florida public school system into a hub for far-right ideology, which reportedly includes grounding curricula in “the history and philosophy of Western Civilization” and “course correct universities’ missions to align education for citizenship of the constitutional republic and Florida’s existing and emerging workforce needs.”

It’s also seemingly part of a broader scheme for DeSantis to stay in the national news cycle as he riles up the most far-right members of his base ahead of 2024. 

During a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, the governor said that he intended to eliminate all DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) “bureaucracies” in Florida, claiming the programs impose “an agenda” and force people to “take a political oath.”

“No funding, and that will wither on the vine,” he said.

DeSantis seems to have chosen so-called “Critical Race Theory” as the focus of his attacks as he seeks national attention going into the likely launch of a presidential bid this year: Earlier this month, he overhauled the board of New College of Florida, a state school that is known to serve students from marginalized communities, and filled it with staunch conservatives, like far-right, anti-CRT activist Christopher Rufo.

His administration also rejected a proposed AP African American Studies course from the College Board for “lack[ing] educational value” and approved a new training program that could force teachers to avoid books on race and LGBTQ+ issues.

While it is clear that DeSantis’ war on “woke” education is rooted in a broader political calculus, the chill from his initiatives can be felt on a granular level. Earlier this month, for example, Manatee County teachers received directives from their school district instructing them to “remove or cover all classroom libraries” until they can be reviewed to make sure they adhere to the state’s standards. 

These latest moves are the trickle-down effects of his Stop Wrong To Our Kids and Employees (W.O.K.E.) Act signed into law last April. The language of the legislation is vague when it comes to actual enforcement, but aims to ban academic institutions and employers from teaching race-conscious concepts that make anyone feel “guilt, anguish or other psychological distress.” 

After four different lawsuits landed on his desk to block the law, a district court judge, calling the act “positively dystopian,” issued preliminary injunctions to block its enforcement in academic institutions and workplace settings. Still, DeSantis seems to be working his way around that.

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