Tue. Feb 7th, 2023

MIAMI — Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida was not on the ballot in Tuesday’s primary. Neither was any other big-name Republican. But Republican voters appear to have gone to the polls anyway, in part to weigh in on an unusual new political battleground: school board races.

Mr. DeSantis, like other Republicans across the country, has centered his political brand on education issues related to the coronavirus pandemic and to what is taught in schools. Before the primary, he did something that no previous Florida governor had ever done: He took sides in nonpartisan school board races.

It worked.

Almost all of the candidates Mr. DeSantis endorsed won, unofficial county election results showed. The candidates’ victories are expected to inject conservative priorities into county-level boards that have drawn heightened public scrutiny in recent years, beginning with school closures and mask mandates and extending to how educators handle matters of gender identity and race.

“Florida has led with purpose and conviction that our school system is about education, not indoctrination,” Mr. DeSantis posted on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon, along with an image of his slate of 30 “pro-parent” candidates. At least 20 won on Tuesday, and five went to runoffs.

Some were incumbents seeking re-election. Others were challenging sitting board members or running for open seats. After Mr. DeSantis became involved in the races, so did the Florida Democratic Party, backing its own slate.

Republicans had poured money into school board campaigns, turning previously sleepy contests into pitched races. On Sunday, Mr. DeSantis and several candidates held events together in three counties — the “DeSantis Education Agenda Tour,” they called it.

“Florida is the state where woke goes to die!” Mr. DeSantis said at a stop at a firefighters’ union hall in Doral, Fla., west of Miami.

At the event, Monica Colucci, a nonpartisan candidate for the Miami-Dade County School Board, denounced “dangerous, radical ideologies that have been creeping into our classrooms.” She vowed, “We take back our school boards!”

Ms. Colucci won, ousting a longtime incumbent.

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