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DeSantis explains his decision on African American studies and proposes more teacher pay raises

Gov. Ron DeSantis outlines his education proposals as Education Commissioner Manny Diaz listens on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023, at Duval Charter School at Baymeadows.
Florida Governor's Office
Gov. Ron DeSantis outlines his education proposals as Education Commissioner Manny Diaz listens on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023, at Duval Charter School at Baymeadows.

Proposals announced by DeSantis include a Teachers Bill of Rights, limits on unions, and partisan school board races. He also defended the state's cancellation of a Black studies AP course.

Speaking at a charter school in Jacksonville, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday proposed a new Teachers Bill of Rights that includes more pay raises for teachers.

But after the governor spoke at Duval Charter School at Baymeadows, he was asked to respond to criticism erupting over the Florida Department of Education’s decision to halt a pilot program on African American studies.

The state’s Education Department sent a letter last week to the College Board, stating that the Advanced Placement high school course is “inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.”

The letter did not identify what content was objectionable, but faith and civic leaders announced Monday that they will move to reverse the state’s decision to cancel the program before it even started.

In his first public comments on the topic, the governor said that state education standards require the teaching of Black history, but "education, not indoctrination.”

“This course, on Black history, what’s one of the lessons about? Queer theory!” the governor said. “Now who would say that an important part of Black history is queer theory? That is somebody pushing an agenda on our kids, and so when you look to see they have stuff about intersectionality, abolishing prisons — that’s a political agenda. And so, that’s the wrong side of the line for Florida standards."

Miriam-Webster defines "queer theory" as "an approach to literary and cultural study that rejects traditional categories of gender and sexuality."

"We believe in teaching kids facts and how to think," DeSantis said, "but we don’t believe they should have an agenda imposed on them. When you try to use Black history to shoehorn in queer theory, you are clearly trying to use that for political purposes.”

Teachers rights and pay

Standing behind a podium with a sign saying “Florida – The Education State,” DeSantis announced a legislative proposal designed to increase what he called teacher “empowerment.” Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz and Duval County School Board member Charlotte Joyce joined DeSantis at the news conference.

DeSantis' proposals would raise teacher salaries, limit unions and reduce the maximum terms of school board members from 12 years to eight.

The pay plan, which would require approval by state lawmakers, would add $200 million to the $800 million already in the budget, pushing average starting pay for teachers to $48,000 per year.

“Since we have already met our goal of average minimum salary, all that additional money can go to increased teacher salaries, however the districts want to do it,” he said. “We think that is both important to recruit and retain good people in the classrooms. With that proposal, and getting that into the budget and hopefully being able to make that law, we will have invested more than $3 billion in increased teacher salaries since 2020.”

DeSantis would prohibit any union representing public employees from having its dues and assessments deducted by the employer. The governor’s proposal also would push for what he called more transparency into how school unions operate, an attempt to eliminate “school union haggling that holds teachers and their salary increases hostage.”

Saying that “unions are failing our teachers,” Joyce blamed unions for advocating for mask mandates and vaccinations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are increasingly seeing the teachers unions becoming more and more involved in politics,” Joyce said. “They are not advocating for the rank-and-file members.”

More on African-American studies

At the end of the news conference, reporters asked DeSantis more questions about the cancellation of the AP African American study program, which comes after the state banned teaching critical race theory in a law that DeSantis called the “Stop WOKE Act.”

Beyond queer theory, the governor said he was concerned about content in the African American studies course that he said involved “abolishing prisons.” He said he believes that’s not what Black men and women want; they want law and order, he said.

“That’s a radical political position,” DeSantis said. “You are free to take that in your own life, and I don’t think that many people would think that would actually work. But how is that being taught as fact? And I also think it’s not fair to say that somehow abolishing prisons is somehow linked to, like, Black experience.”

That is ideology being used in the guise of history, DeSantis said. He described Black history as American history, with people of “different shapes and sizes” who made the country great.

Copyright 2023 WJCT News 89.9. To see more, visit WJCT News 89.9.

Dan Scanlan