For the last several years a common phrase has been used by winning candidates everywhere. Elections matter. And that could not have been any more significant for school choice advocates in Florida than the most recent statewide elections.
In 1996, Jeb Bush partnered with community leaders and opened Florida’s first charter school in Liberty City in Miami-Dade County under legislation signed by then Democrat Governor, Lawton Chiles. Bush, a Republican, would go on to become Florida’s Governor in 1999 and together – with the Republican-controlled state Legislature – would control two of three branches of Florida’s state government for the next nineteen years. This Republican control resulted in legislation advancing school choice, particularly charter schools and charter school expansion.
During this time of Republican control, school choice opponents sought relief in the state’s court system to attack and beat back legislative policies favorable to school choice and charter schools. Over the past several years, the liberal-leaning Florida Supreme Court has been a major stumbling block to expanding school choice and charter schools in Florida. That all changed this past November.
Former Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis was elected Governor in November, and with it came the opportunity to appoint three new members of Florida’s Supreme Court. These appointments resulted from the vacancies created by three justices reaching the mandatory retirement age just as DeSantis was inaugurated as Florida’s newest Governor. These retiring justices were first appointed by previous Democrat Governors and helped keep the Court a more liberal body that routinely sided with school choice opponents in a number of high-profile cases it heard.
Most recently, the Court struck down a proposed constitutional amendment that would have set term limits on elected school board members. The amendment would also maintain the school board’s duties to public schools it establishes but would permit the state to operate, supervise, and control public schools not established by school board (charter schools or other schools of choice).
Shortly after his inauguration, Governor DeSantis appointed three very qualified, conservative justices to the Court, and as some observers have said, created one of the most conservative state Supreme Courts in the country.
When speaking about these appointments, newly elected Lt. Governor Jeanette Nunez said, “(these appointments) will single-handedly be the most important thing for the future of this state that we have ever seen.”
Shortly after naming the three new justices, Governor DeSantis also selected former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives Richard Corcoran, a staunch charter school proponent, as the new Commissioner of the Florida Department of Education.
These executive appointments signal a sea change in the state’s political landscape and send a clear message that Florida’s new Governor is serious about K-12 education, and even more serious about advancing school choice options in the state. His rhetoric on the campaign trail has translated into action, and charter school proponents in Florida should be very pleased with what they see over the next several years.
The recent Florida elections – and subsequent changes in leadership – are a great example of how much elections indeed matter.
About the Author: Larry Williams is the owner/principal at Larry Williams Consulting LLC. They offer comprehensive consulting and lobbying services in the legislative and executive branches of state government as well as state agencies. Larry Williams Consulting LLC has established a network of relationships within the legislative, executive, cabinet and government agency arena as well as extensive knowledge of the issues.
Since the company’s inception in 2006, Charter School Capital has been committed to the success of charter schools. We provide growth capital and facilities financing to charter schools nationwide. Our depth of experience working with charter school leaders and our knowledge of how to address charter school financial and operational needs have allowed us to provide over $1.8 billion in support of 600 charter schools that have educated over 1,027,000 students across the country. For more information on how we can support your charter school, contact us. We’d love to work with you!