Have you noticed that there are a lot of education stories in the news lately? Traditionally, the only way a school would make the front page is if there was a shooting. Now, education enjoys the top-billing status traditionally reserved for the economy or national defense. Indeed, since the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, education has been top of mind for many Americans. But even in this environment of heightened awareness of education, one state consistently manages to draw the attention of educators: Florida.
But why? What is special about Florida? Is Florida so unique that every memo and tweet sent out by its Department of Education warrants scrutiny in the national media? The short answer is yes.
Florida has several factors pushing its education policy toward national relevance:
Florida has made education a priority.
Florida couldn’t make national education news if there was nothing to report. However, Florida continues to generate relevant education news seemingly on a daily basis. From a feud with the College Board over the Advanced Placement African American Studies course to new policies regarding LGBTQ+ students, Florida has a near inexhaustible reservoir of education-related developments to discuss. This is because Florida’s Governor and Department of Education have aggressively pursued opportunities to craft new education regulations for both K-12 and Higher Education.
Florida has a governor that will likely compete for President.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is presumed by most to be a favorite for the GOP nomination for President. With the current President, Joe Biden, mired in low approval ratings, it isn’t too hard to envision a scenario where Ron DeSantis wins the Republican nomination and then the general election. This means that Florida’s education policy could be a preview of the future for the entire nation.
Florida is a swing state.
Though Florida has lurched hard to the right in recent years, it is still technically a swing state. The state went blue as recently as 2012. DeSantis may have romped to a gubernatorial victory in 2022, but not too long ago, he found himself in a dogfight with the Democratic nominee. Florida’s status as a purple state gives partisan education developments more weight. Nobody would blink an eye at a state like Texas or Wyoming passing a new conservative education law, but if such laws can pass in Florida, in theory, they can pass nationally.
Florida is large and thus influential.
Florida is the third most populous state. Large states have always wielded a disproportionate amount of power over the education system. For years, textbooks were framed by the sensitivities of either Texas or California. Florida is approaching that same level of influence. When Florida pushed back against the AP African American studies course, many other states immediately followed suit. The Florida Department of Education was recently successful in getting textbook publishers to remove or modify material they found “objectionable” by first rejecting them. Additionally, most of the laws that attracted so much attention in Florida inspired copycat bills in red states.
Many other states have some of these factors, but basically, none have all of them as Florida does. All of the factors that make Florida education a magnet for attention will only grow as the next year and a half plays out.