BOCA RATON — Gov. Ron DeSantis visited a Boca Raton middle school Monday to announce a plan to make Florida a leader in speech and debate programs for students in middle school and high school, funded mostly by one of his biggest donors, Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus.
Flanked by students on the Omni Middle School debate team who won a district competition in November, DeSantis laid out some details of a new partnership between the Florida Department of Education and the Billi and Bernie Marcus Foundation. The initiative, he said, will expand opportunities for civics, speech and debate programs in middle and high schools and create a “first of its kind” national competition.
Marcus, according to DeSantis, pledged $5 million over the next three years to the Florida Education Foundation. DeSantis said he set aside $375,000 in his proposed budget for the civics and debate initiative. Much of that funding will go toward training teachers and providing them with resources, he said.
“The goal is to make us a nationwide leader in training high school teachers in all Florida counties and to also show an example to other states as we begin to do a competitive speech and debate program at their schools,” DeSantis said. “There’s value to doing this if we’re going to promote civics education.”
The announcement falls in line with the DeSantis’ emphasis on civics education. On Monday he touted his plan to implement a civics test for high school seniors that would be similar to the citizenship test for naturalized American citizens.
DeSantis gave a few examples of hot topics for students to debate, such as government funding of religious schools and the use of the atomic bomb to end World War II. Topics like those, he said, would give students a greater understanding of history.
More speech and debate opportunities could mean other benefits beyond the schoolhouse, he said.
“We live in an era right now where everyone’s kind of buried in their electronic devices and it’s almost as if people engage more in text messaging than just person to person contact some time,” DeSantis said. “I think that there’s value in having a student be able to just stand up and address a group of people or address one person and try to persuade them of a certain position.”
“A device cannot substitute for that,” he added.
Marcus, a Georgia businessman who now resides in Boca Raton, was an early supporter of DeSantis. In 2017, he donated $250,000 to DeSantis’ political action committee, Fund for Florida’s Future. A representative from Marcus’ foundation said Marcus was ill and could not attend the announcement.