Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed three education bills into law Monday, including one that bans higher learning institutions from giving state or federal funding to programs that promote diversity, equity and inclusion. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo
May 15 (UPI) -- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed three education bills into law Monday, including one that bans higher learning institutions from giving state or federal funding to programs that promote diversity, equity and inclusion.
Senate Bill 266 was originally proposed by DeSantis as part of his higher education reform plan. Calling DEI programs "discriminatory initiatives," he said the law takes "several steps to prevent woke ideologies from continuing to co-opt our state universities and state colleges."
These steps include banning funding for organizations that promote political activism. It also prohibits programs, courses and curriculum that discuss concepts like critical race theory or others that examine systemic oppression from racism, sexism or White privilege.
"By signing this legislation, we are ensuring that Florida's institutions encourage diversity of thought, civil discourse and the pursuit of truth for generations to come," DeSantis, who is expected to run for president in 2024, said in a statement.
DeSantis signed the bill in Sarasota at New College, where he has worked to upend a liberal arts tradition.
"This bill does so much more than ban DEI and it's another example of DeSantis attacking freedom of speech and trying to dumb down our universities for his own political gain. DeSantis continuously chooses himself over Florida," Rep. Anna V. Eskamani, D-Orlando, tweeted.
The law bans the teaching of critical race theory, an examination of how systemic racism is built into the structure of society and how racial biases continue to play a role in society today. It was not a part of general education courses at the collegiate level in Florida, but might've been discussed in courses such as sociology.
Alicia Hughes, professor and interim director of the Center for Civil Rights and Social Justice at Emory Law School, said critical race theory, which has been taught since the 1970s, is being conflated with Black history.
"Characterizing Black history as critical race theory is shameful and lacks historic accountability, robbing generations of American students of knowing the very real history of our nation," Hughes said in a recent interview with UPI.
"It is a foregone conclusion that we are destined to repeat ugly parts of history when we are unaware of them. I truly believe that there is nothing new under the sun, and you can only outrun the past when you confront it."
The law also bans lessons related to The New York Times' 1619 Project, which explores the legacy of slavery in America.
'Don't say gay'
Monday's signing comes on the heels of Florida's Parental Rights in Education Act, dubbed "don't say gay" by critics, which has gained national attention, not least because it sparked a war between DeSantis and Disney.
The law, which was recently expanded through grade 12, bans educators from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity. It also bars teachers from calling students by their preferred pronouns if they do not "correspond with such person's sex." It also ignores the existence of intersex people.
During debate on the bills, some legislators warned of the consequences.
Rep. Ashley Viola Gantt, D-Miami, a former teacher, said in a House Education Quality subcommittee that such legislation attempts to erase transgender people from existence.
She warned that the language of the bill also allows for a single parent to have books banned from a school if they find them to be offensive.
"What if a parent doesn't want their child to learn about the history of slavery?" Gantt said. "Then the whole class wouldn't learn it. That is a part of my very existence. We have to think about all of these unintended consequences."
Disney released a statement opposing the law and DeSantis responded with efforts to revoke some of the entertainment behemoth's self-governing powers in Florida.
New College overhaul
Earlier this year, DeSantis executed a massive overhaul of New College in Sarasota, which had strived to provide a home for "free thinkers." He appointed six new members to its board and effectively put allies in charge of its curriculum, staff and student body.
Among the new members of the board DeSantis appointed is Christopher Rufo, who the governor's office touts as a leader in the fight against critical race theory.
In March, DeSantis signed House Bill 1, which expands Florida's school voucher program. That is controversial because it creates a mechanism to give state funding to private schools, which are predominantly Christian and Catholic schools.
The governor touts the School Choice Option law as giving parents more control over their children's education.
The other bills signed by DeSantis on Monday are House Bill 931, which bans public schools from requiring students, faculty and staff to take "political loyalty tests" and Senate Bill 240, which expands workforce education programs.