DeSantis holds press conference in Lee County, signs 3 education bills

Writer: Derrick Shaw
Published: Updated:
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed three education-related bills while visiting Three Oaks Middle School in Lee County on Tuesday. (Credit: WINK News)

Gov. Ron DeSantis held a press conference Tuesday afternoon at Three Oaks Middle School in Lee County.

He spoke about the state’s Civics and Debate Initiative, which works “to elevate civic knowledge, skills and disposition for middle and high school students through speech and debate.”

He also signed three bills: HB 5 – Civic Education Curriculum, SB 1108 – Education, and HB 233 – Postsecondary Education. (More below.)

“I’m proud to sign three bills today that prioritize civics education in our schools,” DeSantis said. “The sad reality is that only two in five Americans can correctly name the three branches of government, and more than a third of Americans cannot name any of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. It is abundantly clear that we need to do a much better job of educating our students in civics to prepare them for the rest of their lives.”

HB 5 calls for the Florida Department of Education to come up with a new civic education curriculum for public school students from kindergarten to 12th grade.

What’s unique about the law is that the DOE has to include interviews or first-person stories from people of different backgrounds. Some of those accounts will come from people who lived under communist or totalitarian rule. It’s supposed to help kids really understand why freedom and democracy are so important.

To illustrate the thinking behind the new law, DeSantis was joined at Tuesday’s press conference by people who escaped persecution from totalitarian regimes in countries like Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, including Ana Margarita Abaunza. She came to Florida from Nicaragua when the Sandinista regime took power, then moved to Venezuela with her husband and had a good life there until Hugo Chavez took power, forcing her to flee again to the U.S.

“Whatever you do, civics will be relevant. You have to discharge the duties of citizenship and we want people to be able to do that with a very strong foundation,” the governor said.

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran; House Speaker Chris Sprowls; Rep. Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers; and Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, were also in attendance, as were students and faculty from some Lee County schools.

“We have a responsibility to teach students how to think for themselves rather than indoctrinating them on what to think,” Rodrigues said. “Without a measurement of intellectual diversity, it is impossible to know if Florida taxpayers are providing an education or an indoctrination. Governor DeSantis understands the difference and I am grateful for his commitment to ensuring viewpoint diversity exists on our campuses.”

“When educational institutions place a premium on people that look different but think the same, that’s not diversity — that’s conformity,” Roach said. “I thank Governor DeSantis for ensuring that Florida’s 12 state universities and 28 state colleges will foster ideological competition and diversity of viewpoint to make all campuses a true marketplace of ideas. Florida students deserve nothing less.”

You can watch a replay below or by clicking here.

Key points from the bills:

HB 5 – Civic Education Curriculum: House Bill 5 requires the Florida Department of Education to create an integrated K-12 civic education curriculum that includes an understanding of citizens’ shared rights and responsibilities under the Constitution and Bill of Rights. It further expands required instruction in high school to include a comparative discussion of political ideologies that conflict with the principles of freedom and democracy essential to the founding principles of the United States, such as communism and totalitarianism. This bill also provides a library of “Portraits in Patriotism” based on personal stories of diverse individuals who demonstrate civic-minded qualities, including those who have moved to this country after being persecuted in nations like Cuba and Venezuela.

SB 1108 – Education: Senate Bill 1108 requires state college and state university students to take both a civic literacy course and a civic literacy assessment as a graduation requirement, bridging civics education between our high schools and postsecondary institutions. The bill further requires high school students to take a civic literacy assessment that has no high stakes consequences. If a high school student passes the test, that student is exempted from the postsecondary test requirement. The bill also expands the character development curriculum for high school juniors and seniors to include instructions on how to register to vote.

HB 233 – Postsecondary Education: House Bill 233 requires state colleges and universities to conduct annual assessments of the viewpoint diversity and intellectual freedom at their institutions to ensure that Florida’s postsecondary students will be shown diverse ideas and opinions, including those that they may disagree with or find uncomfortable. (Sponsored by Rep. Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers, Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero)

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