DeSantis continues civics education push with new teacher bonuses

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis is following through on his efforts to create a new statewide civics education program that would offer $3,000 bonuses to teachers who earn a beefed-up credential on the subject.

The Republican governor said Tuesday that the Florida Department of Education is finalizing plans for a $106 million initiative that would mark the latest efforts by DeSantis to bolster civics in schools as he and other state leaders push for conservative ideas and rail on critical race theory. The proposed “Civic Literacy Excellence Initiative” appears to be funded through federal coronavirus relief dollars and could benefit some 21,600 teachers throughout the state.

“We’ve got to do better as a society,” said DeSantis, speaking at an Orlando charter school. “But certainly, in Florida we’ve got to do better.”

Breaking it down: Initially floated by DeSantis in March during the heat of legislative session, the civics program includes $16.5 million for teacher trainings, $17.5 million toward crafting civics curriculum and $6.5 million aimed at sparking student interest in public service.

But the largest chunk of funding — $65 million — would be set aside for $3,000 bonuses divvied out to teachers who complete training and earn a new “Civics Seal of Excellence” endorsement. What that training and the program would entail was unclear as of Tuesday when DeSantis said the measure was necessary because "huge" percentages of people can't identify the branches of government or the key ideas in the bill of rights.

DeSantis was optimistic that teachers would be able to earn the civics credentials and bonuses during the upcoming 2021-22 school year.

“We want to move forward very quickly,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis, nor the Florida Department of Education, has said which tranche of federal Covid-19 relief would fund the $106 million civics endeavor.

Florida as of Tuesday had not submitted its outline for spending federal American Rescue Plan coronavirus education dollars, which was due to the U.S. Department of Education on June 7.

Pushing civics: DeSantis and Florida’s GOP-leaning Legislature made civics education a priority during the 2021 session, in line with the governor’s recent push for conservative “culture war” measures ahead of his 2022 reelection bid.

Lawmakers, for example, passed legislation mandating that U.S. government courses in Florida high schools must lead comparative discussions of political ideologies that conflict with the “principles of freedom and democracy essential to the founding” of the nation.

Meanwhile, Florida’s Board of Education is set consider new teaching standards for civics, among other subjects, at a meeting Wednesday.