By BETHANY BLANKLEY
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ message of education freedom – including empowering parents, banning “woke” curriculum, and ensuring education transparency – are all policies that are resonating with parents in key battleground states, a recent poll conducted by a Democratic firm reveals.
Hart Research conducted a poll of 1,748 registered voters in seven states on behalf of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the largest teacher’s unions in the U.S. and a vocal critic of Gov. DeSantis.
Roughly 250 voters were surveyed from May 21-30 in each of seven states: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The majority, 83%, have children who regularly attend public school. Of that 83%, 60% are students in pre-K through fifth grades. The majority polled were also suburban women who consider themselves to be moderate “on most issues related to government and politics.”
The majority said they were likely voting Republican for the governor of their respective state, preferred a Republican-controlled Congress, and slightly more had confidence in Republicans (39%) than Democrats (38%) “to deal with education issues.” In another question, however, 39% said they have more confidence in Democrats, compared to 37% in Republicans, “to deal with education issues in a way you would agree with.”
The majority expressed support for parents having a say in what their children are taught (51%); 53% said gender issues should be taught at home not at school, and 53% said schools should focus less on the issue of race and racism.
In addition to the poll findings, Hart Research published a memo in which it suggests “effective Democratic education messaging” be used to “blunt GOP attacks and begin to restore the party’s advantage on education.”
The memo suggests that Democrats “make clear that Republicans are politicizing education – pushing a political agenda that diverts public schools from their core mission of educating children,” even though the poll found that 33% of respondents said Democrats and liberals are more responsible for politicizing education than the 28% who said Republicans were.
The report’s findings were recently made public as Gov. DeSantis continues to gain support among many parents, including those at a recent Mom’s For Liberty event held in Tampa over the weekend. The group was founded by mothers of public-school children in Brevard County who opposed school mask mandates and has since expanded to 200 chapters in 38 states with roughly 100,000 members.
“We have drawn a very clear line in the sand that says our school system is for educating kids, not indoctrinating kids,” Gov. DeSantis said to a standing ovation. “Parents have a fundamental role in the education of their kids. … the state of Florida has to not just talk the talk with parents’ rights but walk the walk with parents’ rights.”
Gov. DeSantis, who spoke for 50 minutes, pushed back against what he said was a “false narrative” that Florida was banning books in schools.
He said the Florida Department of Education recently reviewed the curriculum that schools were using and found it was teaching “woke math.”
He said, “I’m just thinking to myself … 2 plus 2 equals 4. It’s not 2 plus 2 equals ‘well, how do you feel about that? Is that an injustice?’ No. We gotta’ teach the kids to get the right answer. The Department of Education said these are woke books. Send them back to the publishers.
“The media said, ‘oh my God they’re banning books,’” he said. “No, you can buy them if you want … but they’re not consistent with state standards” so Florida isn’t using them.
Gov. DeSantis and the Florida legislature not only banned mask and vaccine mandates as a condition of employment and education statewide, but schools largely remained open for in-person instruction over the past two years. They also banned CRT from being taught in public schools and created a new curriculum celebrating American heritage including historic contributions of African Americans, the first of its kind in state history. Gov. DeSantis also signed a bill requiring curriculum transparency, giving more power to parents and students.
Gov. DeSantis is currently leading his main Democratic challenger, Congressman Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor of Florida, in the polls.
At the Florida Democratic Party’s Leadership Blue event also held over the weekend in Tampa, Mr. Crist said, “In the last four years, Governor DeSantis has made Florida more divided than ever. It’s time to put an end to his culture wars and take back our state for the people of Florida.”
Members of one group attending the event, Parents for Crist, said they hoped to elect a “public education governor.” During his remarks, Mr. Crist pledged to increase teacher pay and per student spending to the national average.
However, Gov. DeSantis and the state legislature invested the most funding for public school education in state history, including increasing teacher pay and bonuses and per student funding.
Florida is ranked third in the U.S. for education outcomes, according to a U.S. News’ most recent Education Rankings. Florida students also improved across the board last year, according to the latest civics assessment results. And the National Association of Scholars’ Civics Alliance recently launched a new model for curriculum to improve K-12 education partially based on Florida’s model.