Make DeSantis defend the huge education scandal that should define the rest of his term
Governor, you destroyed your own DoE by turning it over to a famous grifter. Good luck chasing CRT, and getting out of your high stakes testing lie, with the clown show Richard Corcoran has left you.
A spokesperson for DeSantis, who appointed Corcoran to be commissioner in 2018, declined to comment.
We try to stay a step ahead. My view is you’ve always gotta be on offense.
In-the-moment petty aggression and dominance define DeSantis. When he goes silent about a scandal report he knew was coming, it’s because he’s afraid to take the punch or throw a punch about it himself. Take note. People tend to attack DeSantis with language and abstraction that he welcomes. That is dumb and ineffective if changing him or beating him is what you care about.
If you don’t like DeSantis, who is a personally-cruel bully with very little knowledge of anything, you would do well to find what he does not want to talk about — and then talk about it. Mock him about it. Relentlessly, every day. Anna Eskamani showed how to do this by making Florida’s dumpster fire unemployment system an issue that put DeSantis on the defensive during COVID. She got results. DeSantis’s state education system — and its chronic understaffing and corruption — is the unemployment scandal on super steroids.
Today, and for the foreseeable future, DeSantis will not want to talk about his Department of Education, which is eroding his state school system under his and Richard Corcoran’s personal direction every day. Make him talk about that — or refuse to talk about it — every day.
Education, contrary to all the fake CRT bluster, is #1 way to put DeSantis on defense. And there are endless opportunities approaching to do that by making DoE corruption and the corrupt Florida Model the focus of attention and centerpiece of the 2022 and 2024 campaigns.
Meet the new test, same as the old test
The year ahead is going to see the biggest overhaul of the corrupt Florida testing and “accountability” model since Jeb created it in 1998.
And under pressure from the same people who brought you the Jefferson County failure and scandal, DeSantis is already breaking his promise to greatly improve Florida’s miserable and useless testing experience. Most of us who pay attention assumed this is what he would do after getting the one-day positive headlines he was looking for. The raised and dashed expectations — the lying — make him vulnerable. More on that in a subsequent article.
Bottom line: current legislation has DoE building a giant online testing apparatus that will replace the current giant testing apparatus. The endless spring testing period and its pointless high stakes will still exist. Your child will not meaningfully experience testing itself differently — nor will your child experience a state system that considers him or her a human being rather than a piece of data to sell.
Lying and systemic morality aside, there are big mechanical and operational aspects to this overhaul. Someone has to build the big new tests and execute everything. That’s where DeSantis’ crippled and thoroughly corrupt Department of Education comes in.
For years — and as shown clearly in Jefferson County — DoE has proven it can’t implement anything successfully or manage contractors. This is true about most aspects of Republican state government; but it’s particularly true in education.
And yet, DoE will own this whole process. So DeSantis is going to have to keep refusing to answer questions about testing experience and DoE’s corrupt incompetence. This will continue even after DeSantis gets rid of Corcoran and replaces him with Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Somerset Charter, who is also neck deep in the Jefferson corruption and incompetence.
The complete, cynical corruption and erosion of the state school system that DeSantis owns is, by far, his greatest policy and political vulnerability — both as governor and 2024 challenger to Donald Trump in the Republican primary. Just like it was for Jeb Bush in the 2016 Republican primary.
(By the way, Trump, if one of your minions reads this for you, you can absolutely do to DeSantis in 2024 what you did to Jeb in the 2016 primary. Just replace “Common Core” with “Schools of Hope” and “corruption.” I know you’re jealous of DeSantis and mad that he’s taking your people from you, sir.)
What the grifter-on-grifter action in Jefferson revealed about the true Florida scandal
For all their problems, local districts, with zero help and under active sabotage from their corrupt state bosses, run thousands and thousands of schools serving millions of Florida kids every day. If every person in state government disappeared tomorrow, Florida’s locally-operated schools would happily — much more happily, in fact — open and function.
By contrast, the state of Florida’s Department of Education, and its Somerset Charter contractor, had one school to operate. One school campus, serving 800 K-12 kids. They destroyed and abandoned it; and then they left grifters — including themselves — to fight over its bones like hyenas for tax money. From the Times story, written by Lawrence Mower and Ana Ceballos:
Jefferson County, a rural county near Florida’s capital with one of the poorest populations in the state, is coming off the boldest experiment yet in Republicans’ two-decade effort to privatize public education.
In 2017, amid failing grades and financial mismanagement, the state turned over control of the district and its three schools to a private charter school company — the first, and only, district in the state to be privatized.
That five-year arrangement with Somerset Academy Inc. is set to expire June 30, and Somerset opted against extending the contract. Somerset continues to deal with “extreme turnover of instructional staff” and “extremely low proficiency” in math and reading among the majority of students, according to the company’s January 2021 assessment.
I love the Times story; but “to deal with” is curious phrasing here.
After five years — and roughly double the money the local district would ever get — Somerset wasn’t competent enough to even keep a stable staff. And that’s with roughly the entire Arza grifting family employed by Somerset. Seriously, the Arzas alone should have accounted for a couple of grade levels.
Or could Somerset not even keep them?
All Florida education scandals have a Ralph Arza angle
From the TBT story:
Also included was prominent charter school lobbyist Ralph Arza, a longtime close ally of Rubio and Corcoran who resigned from the Legislature in 2006 after using racial slurs during a drunken tirade. Arza has four relatives, including his brother and sister-in-law, working in Jefferson County for the company currently operating the schools.
Arza told the Times/Herald that he was at the meeting on behalf of his job with the Florida Charter School Alliance, which advocates for charter schools, and did not stand to benefit financially if MGT won the award.
Ralph Arza is a convicted criminal witness tamperer, kicked out of the Legislature for making threats, who candidate Ron DeSantis uninvited from a 2018 campaign fundraiser because he’s too racist. Seriously, Arza was too racist for Ron DeSantis.
Ralph is by far my favorite Florida education villain because he’s just so cheerfully brazen. He is the Forrest Gump/Zelig of Florida Model grifting. If something sketchy is happening, always look for the Arza.
It’s extremely telling that DeSantis is perfectly happy to sic the once too racist Arza and his family crew into the racially-polarized Jefferson County community and public school situation. Here’s how Jefferson expert Jessica Bakeman described it:
More than 60 percent of people in the county are white. But, for years, about three quarters of the roughly 800 students in the public schools were black. More recently, the student population has shifted to about two-thirds black.
More than 300 students attend a predominantly white Christian school in Monticello; it was founded the same year the public schools integrated. The school’s current principal said it was established to offer a religious educational option, but he acknowledged some white parents’ motivation for enrolling their children at the time might have been to avoid mixing them with black students.
Back to talking to Trump’s minions: remember when ya’ll ran Arza attack ads against little Marco Rubio?
In 2016, Rubio’s campaign tried to keep Arza away from the candidate because he was considered toxic. President Donald Trump in a Florida TV ad singled out Arza for "lobbing racial slurs and being convicted of witness tampering.”
DeSantis has kept Arza at the heart of a corrupt DoE machine. Trump should bludgeon him with that; and Val Demings would be wise to use Arza and Corcoran against Rubio, too.
Go on offense
Republican machine politics has elevated “education” as an “issue” in the last few months because it thinks it can make hay with riling up some of the Trump base with a lot of talk about anuses and reverse racism.
But this is playing with political fire; and people who care about a humane, non-corrupt approach to public education — especially in Florida — should welcome the elevation. I certainly do.
The Florida Model’s corruption and failure cannot stand up to any real scrutiny — from Jefferson County to the 61 percent 2-year dropout rate for voucher schools that DeSantis says are public schools to how Florida has America’s worst test score growth as kids move through the system to DeSantis’ lies about testing.
All of that could be lethal in a campaign in which DeSantis and the GOP want to use education as the superficial centerpiece.
The facts are established; it’s the willful, repetitive, political scrutiny that’s always been missing. And Democrats — or Trump — who leave those facts unscrutinized and undiscussed, just as DeSantis and Corcoran want them to — are committing political and policy and education malpractice.
One story won’t do it. A tweet won’t do it. It has to be a sustained, but simple message, day-in and day-out:
Ron DeSantis and his corrupt, grifting DOE have broken Florida’s state education system. We will fix it.
You got anything better to run on?