Florida Governor Ron DeSantis shocked his fellow members of the Republican party when he vetoed a bill that this week would have established a more robust practicum for Florida high schoolers to learn about civics.
The “civic literacy education” bill (SB 146), introduced by Senator Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, easily passed the state’s House and Senate with unanimous support from both parties and was expected to be signed by DeSantis Tuesday.
Instead, DeSantis said in a veto statement obtained by Newsweek, “The proposed bill seeks to further so-called ‘action civics’ but does so in a way that risks promoting the preferred orthodoxy of two particular institutions.”
“I don’t understand what that means,” Brandes said in response to the veto letter. “I think it’s purposely opaque.” He also said he was “shocked” by the veto, and that DeSantis’ explanation was “amorphous at best.”
The bill’s intent was to provide more Florida students “with an opportunity to be civically engaged,” by involving and educating youth in more aspects of “society, government and the political system.”
“The [veto] letter left me deeply confused of whether the governor’s team actually understood what this bill really did,” Brandes said.
“The Governor vetoed SB 146 because the legislation did not contain protections against politicized ‘action civics’—and therefore, there was a risk it could be used to bring political indoctrination and activism into public school classrooms,” Christina Pushaw, a spokesperson for DeSantis said in an email to Newsweek.
DeSantis did not further specify what he meant by “preferred orthodoxy,” or name the two institutions, but it’s likely he was referring to an opinion piece published in the conservative National Review in mid-June that called for the governor to veto the bill.
The article warned the bill would provide an opening for Critical Race Theory to creep back into Florida’s curriculum. It called the bill’s proposed “Civic Engagement Citizen Scholar Program” “dangerous,” saying it would give the University of South Florida and the YMCA’s “Youth in Government” program the power to pull youth into “politicized action civics.”
The piece claimed there were “huge danger signs” including “avenues for student political activism in areas such as ‘Climate Action & Sustainability,’ ‘Gender Equity & LGBTQ Rights,’ ‘Racial Equity & Justice,’ etc., all displayed on a rainbow flag.”
Democratic Rep. Ben Diamond, the House sponsor of the bill, said that he was told it would be signed and to please provide the Governor’s office with a statement.
“I just don’t get it. I’m sort of speechless,” Diamond said. “I’m stunned that the governor would put his own political agenda ahead of the students in the state of Florida.”
“I think this is part of a larger political agenda to demonize our universities, demonize education,” Diamond said.
“This bill has been around for three or four years, and we have met with the governor’s team multiple times on this legislation,” Brandes said. “It has been to the floor multiple times. This is really the first we’ve ever heard of any opposition—it passed unanimously.”
Update (07/02/2021, 11:00 am ET): This story was updated to reflect a statement from DeSantis’ office that was emailed to Newsweek.