Florida education commissioner says states need to be more 'aggressive' with policy, go back to basics

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Reacting to Florida ranking number one in the latest education freedom index report, the state’s Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz Jr. told Fox News Digital that the Sunshine State has become a model for paving the way for education freedom.

“I think you need to pursue aggressive policies to get our institutions back under mission. Students need to be in school learning and all of these other things, whether it be gender or ideology,” Diaz Jr. told Fox News Digital.

The commissioner added that “a lot of states are mimicking or taking” from what they’ve done in Florida and implementing it.

“All this noise needs to be removed from the schoolhouse, and we need to get back to the basics of teaching reading … They need to learn how to read, so they can read to learn. And teaching math and getting the basics. Civics education has been incredibly important here in Florida. If you get the basics right, everything else starts to fall in line. But you do have to filter through and make sure you get rid of the distractions that have been going on in these schools for so long,” he said.”

Diaz Jr. explained further that teacher unions have been a “huge roadblock” to education freedom because they “often have gone from worrying about teachers’ compensation, benefits, and work conditions to getting into these social issues.”

“What they should be worrying about is, how do we improve reading scores, how do we improve math scores, and how do we get our, you know, our teachers in the best working conditions?,” he said.

The Center For Education Reform’s “Parent Power! Index” report outlines how education programs and policies enable parental involvement in education. CER highlights that the effort was “fueled” by post-pandemic education concerns and a “renewed understanding of the power of education freedom.”

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According to the report, between 2021 and April 2024, 26 education reform laws were instituted to enshrine parental rights and involvement. 

“One of the essential things that I think has driven the parental rights movement in Florida is actually COVID, because, while there were the underpinnings of this movement … you didn’t have enough parents paying attention, the minute the school temporarily came to their dining room, they realized what was going on in the classroom,” Diaz said.

Casey and Ron DeSantis

CER’s report ranks the top five best and worst states in terms of their efforts in pushing education freedom laws.

Arizona, Florida and North Carolina were three of the top five states in the “Parent Power! Index” — states that saw the largest influx of people moving in over the three-year period. CER added that these states’ policies resulted in more than one million students leaving “public schools to pursue other education opportunities in states that have a policy environment that enables options for parents.”

According to the index, Florida was the top state for education freedom because the state “adopted serious accountability measures” for education officials.

Florida ascended to the top spot in another ranking on the academic front. U.S. News & World Report released a Best States rankings for education showing Florida at the number one spot for the second year in a row. 

“That placement is largely fueled by several stellar metrics in higher education, and less so by Florida’s still fairly strong performance in the prekindergarten- through-12th-grade arena,” U.S. News & World Report stated.

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The report stated that “in metrics reflecting pre-K through high school, Florida excelled the most in college readiness.”

Diaz Jr. said that the DeSantis administration is going to make an effort to ensure that teachers do not push “nonsense” in the classroom.

“What we found is that, again, some of this nonsense has crept in there and instead of worrying about the science of reading and how we teach math and how to deliver instruction, we were talking about creating social, justice activists, and oppressor versus the oppressed, the same thing and gender ideology,” he said. “And so we need to focus like the governor says, we need to focus back to the basics and the core and get our students.”

Parent Rally

DeSantis has prioritized cutting “woke” elements out of state schools. Since taking office, he enacted a Parents Bill of Rights to prohibit instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation and moved to enforce laws banning pornographic material from school children, such as LGBTQ books featuring graphic sexual content.

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Since the COVID-19 pandemic, parents have taken a closer look at what is happening in their children’s schools, which caused many to speak out against certain books and curricula being taught. Critics argue these parents are censoring children and pushing to erase LGBTQ and other minority identities from schools. 

Fox News’ Kendall Tietz contributed to this report.

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