Through both policy and taxpayer funding during the 2016 session, the Republican-led Legislature subtly gave a leg up to politically conservative school board members in Florida who want greater influence on statewide education policy.
The Legislature's actions show how partisan politics continue to influence education in the Sunshine State, but party ideology is not supposed to infiltrate local school boards.
The Constitution requires school boards to be nonpartisan, so critics are especially concerned by Republican leaders' eagerness to intervene — and to diminish the influence of those with viewpoints contrary to their own.
This session, Republican lawmakers first sought to retaliate — through a proposed law — against the Florida School Boards Association because it previously challenged a Legislature-approved, voucher-like program in court.
Republicans backed off that in the face of criticism in the final days of session, but they still passed — as part of the massive "school choice" bill — a provision that will let the 356 individual school board members in the state direct their dues to a new advocacy organization that seeks to rival the FSBA.
While offering more freedom and flexibility to school board members, the measure could potentially de-fund the well-established FSBA in favor of boosting revenue for the 15-month-old Florida Coalition of School Board Members, which champions conservative values in line with legislative leaders' priorities