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DeSantis Solidifies Control of FL Ed Policy With Pickup of 6 School Board Seats

But nationally, election results for candidates backed by conservative advocacy groups were more mixed

All six of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s endorsed school board candidates won in runoff races on Tuesday. (Getty Images)

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Florida voters not only gave Gov. Ron DeSantis a decisive victory over Democrat Charlie Crist Tuesday night, they also elected his remaining slate of school board candidates, further solidifying his influence over state education policy.

All six of his endorsed candidates, who advanced from an August primary to runoffs in the general election, won their races, according to unofficial results. That means that of the 30 candidates the governor supported this year, 25 won.

Three of the candidates are incumbents who won re-election— Stephanie Busin in Hendry County, Jacqueline Rosario in Indian River County and Jamie Haynes in Volusia County. Three more captured open seats — Sam Fisher in Lee County, Cindy Spray in Manatee County and Al Hernandez in Pasco County.

Hernandez was temporarily removed from the ballot when a circuit court judge ruled that he didn’t live in the region he sought to represent when he qualified. But his appeal to a district court was successful, with a three-judge panel ruling that he had proven residency

DeSantis has held considerable sway over school board politics this year, not just endorsing candidates but also removing and appointing members. Those concerned about the direction conservative board members are taking schools oppose his involvement, while others who want greater say in their children’s education support the shift.

“That is our mission and the reason we endorse,” said Tina Descovich, a co-founder of Moms for Liberty, a conservative advocacy group. Ballots, she said, should identify the party affiliation of board candidates. “It gives voters more information to work with. A more informed voter makes better decisions.”

But critics say the movement benefits parties more than students. 

“The only letters that a school board member should have after their name is EE — for education and equity,” said Joaquin Guerra, political director for the Campaign for Our Shared Future Action Fund, which organized to counteract efforts by groups such as Moms for Liberty. “We have enough politics in our lives.”

Alicia Farrant, who won election to the Orange County school board, was among the candidates Moms for Liberty endorsed. Her victory over Michael Daniels, a college administrator whose wife teaches in the Orange County schools, “means that we need to do a better job of engaging families in Florida and educating them about the importance of school board elections,” Guerra said.

Some experts say it’s a matter of time before the offices become officially partisan, not just in Florida, but other states as well. Moms for Liberty endorsed 270 candidates nationally, including 45 in California and 50 in South Carolina. Another group that works to elect conservative school board members, 1776 Project PAC, also endorsed candidates in multiple states. But ultimately, the results were mixed.

For years now, elections for judges, school board members and city council members have been nonpartisan “in name only,” said Susan MacManus, a politician science professor at the University of South Florida. “The partisan affiliation of the candidates has been laid bare for all to see.”

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