TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Five out of six school board members endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis won their runoffs Tuesday, results that deliver the Republican governor a total of 24 wins out of 30 local education candidates he backed this year.
Led by DeSantis, the GOP in Florida — and Democrats to a lesser extent — pumped thousands of dollars into campaign donations and offered up political endorsements during the midterms to help score school board seats. Those efforts have led to reshaped boards in key areas such as Sarasota and Miami-Dade counties, which now have more Republicans elected to local education posts.
School board races, which are historically nonpartisan, were partially shaped by advertisements produced by political committees with a variety of different backers, from environmental companies to Big Sugar to billionaire megadonors. In one glaring example, the 1776 PAC, which opposes critical race theory in schools, endorsed 49 candidates in Florida throughout 21 counties — more than even DeSantis.
Parental rights groups also played a role, such as the conservative Moms for Liberty, which endorsed 12 school board candidates in Florida and donated to campaigns. Florida Democrats endorsed 20 candidates ahead of the general election, posting six wins and 10 losses with two races not fully counted as of press time.
These efforts illustrate how education was a significant issue in 2022, one that played out both in state and local races. DeSantis is thought to be the first Florida governor to endorse school board members, a move that spurred Democrats to follow suit.
Out of the six candidates endorsed by DeSantis in runoff elections Tuesday, five squared off against opponents backed by the Florida Democratic Party. And four of those DeSantis candidates won their races.
In Indian River County, Jacqueline Rosario, who is backed by DeSantis, Moms for Liberty and the 1776 Project, won her bid for reelection against Cindy Gibbs, a Democrat endorsee with more than 55 percent of the vote.
In Manatee County, Cindy Spray, endorsed by DeSantis and Moms for Liberty, won over Harold Byrd, who was endorsed by Democrats.
In Pasco County, a candidate endorsed by DeSantis and Moms for Liberty, Al Hernandez, defeated James Washington, supported by Democrats, after landing 65 percent of the vote.
In Volusia, Jamie Haynes, endorsed by DeSantis and Moms for Liberty, won a seat over Democrat-endorsed Albert L. Bouie.
In Lee County, Democrat-endorsed Kathy Fanny won over Sam Fisher, who had the backing of DeSantis and Moms for Liberty.
And in Hendry County, Stephanie Busin won her race by just eight votes after scoring endorsements from DeSantis and Moms for Liberty.
In three other races, school board candidates endorsed by Democrats faced off against candidates backed by Moms for Liberty. Those supported by Moms for Liberty, a group that has emerged on the forefront of education in part by being active in local school board meetings, won each of those contests.
In Pinellas, Stephanie Meyer defeated Brian Martin, who was endorsed by Democrats; and Dawn Peters, backed by Moms for Liberty and the 1776 Project, defeated Keesha Benson, another Democrat endorsee.
And in Brevard County, Moms for Liberty candidate Gene Trent won over Erin Dunne, a Democrat-endorsed candidate.
Parental rights have been a key battle cry for DeSantis and conservatives, who in Florida passed legislation such as the Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education” law, labeled as “Don’t Say Gay” by opponents, which bans teachers from leading classroom lessons on gender identity and sexual orientation for kids in kindergarten through third grade. Republicans also are pushing for expanding school choice and transparency around what students are learning in school, particularly on the topics of race and gender identity.
Democrats fought against DeSantis administration policies by pointing to the teacher shortage gripping Florida and student test scores that show a drop off since the pandemic.
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