DeSantis Makes Bonkers Claims About Florida Schools’ Ties to China

Andrew Kelly/Reuters
Andrew Kelly/Reuters

Not content to stop at banning books, curriculum about sexual orientation and gender identity, and the teaching of critical race theory, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis now wants to ban access to schools that he claims have “direct ties” to the Chinese Communist Party.

DeSantis announced on Friday that he was suspending school voucher programs awarded to help children and their families pay for tuition at four schools, claiming that the Lower Sagemont Preparatory School, Upper Sagemont Preparatory School, Parke House Academy and Park Maitland Schools all pose “an imminent threat to the health, safety and welfare of these schools’ students and the public” due the schools’ alleged connections to China.

This hyperbole about the threat to “health, safety and welfare” posed by schools teaching children from pre-school to grade 12 sounds straight out of Stanley Kubrick’s satirical film “Dr. Strangelove” where deranged Air Force General Ripper rants “I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion, and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.”

DeSantis claims that his Florida Department of Education “through a thorough investigation” “has determined” that these schools have “direct ties to the CCP.”

I’m happy to hear that this investigation was “thorough”—since this is the same Florida Department of Education that is itself under federal investigation for what looks like a botched investigation into bid-rigging that steered a multi-million dollar contract to an ally of DeSantis—but DeSantis revealed zero evidence to back up his accusations.

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However, the schools’ websites plainly state that they are part of an education network whose controlling interest is owned by a Hong Kong investment firm and its affiliates, which are owned by Chinese people living in Hong Kong. The same network operates schools in Arizona, California and Georgia. If that’s a smoking gun it didn’t take much investigation to find it. By the way, the holding company also owns the Princeton Review and

Nor does the Florida Education Department appear to have much experience at investigating “foreign influence.” A look at its websites and list of cases shows that its investigative authority and experience involve its Office of Inspector General looking into the standard “fraud/abuse/waste” that OIGs look at and lists primarily disability access cases.

The lack of foreign influence investigations is not surprising given that it’s the federal government that is primarily tasked with rooting out such matters. As F.B.I. Director Christopher Wray testified: “The FBI is the lead federal agency responsible for investigating foreign influence operations” as well as a host of collaborating federal agencies like Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) – all of whom somehow missed this sinister plot going on in Florida.

The schools- Lower and Upper Sagemont Preparatory Schools, Parke House Academy and Park Maitland Schools-being accused of endangering their own students and the rest of us deny any influence by the Chinese Communist Party.

Sagemont Preparatory School and Park Maitland School (which has an “A+” rating according to the school search website Niche) said:

“We have received notice from the State that our eligibility for Florida Choice school funds has been suspended. We were not contacted in advance and are seeking more information regarding the basis for this decision. In the meantime, we will be working directly with our families to ensure they can remain enrolled in our school. We are regularly acknowledged as one of the best private schools in our area and have a track record of delivering outstanding educational outcomes, which is why parents choose us. Our schools are locally run, abide by local, state and federal laws, and do not have ties to any government or political party, either foreign or domestic. Our curriculum is accredited, standards-based and academically rigorous.”

This means that students whose families seek financial assistance will no longer have that help. The schools will have to work with these families to make sure that their children do not have their school plans derailed. As an example, Park Maitland received about $329,000 in such funds last year, with less than 50 students using the state help—out of an enrollment of about 640 students. This data implies that the loss of the state funds will hurt those students and their families who most need it versus families who can afford to pay tuition without any help.

It's no surprise that DeSantis’s latest posturing about China appears comically baseless. His law to ban Chinese citizens from owning land in Florida would affect 0.1 percent of all real estate purchases in Florida in 2022—a poor basis for DeSantis’s claims of the “malign influence of the Chinese Communist Party” in Florida real estate. It’s also no surprise that this latest action hurts the most vulnerable the most.

Whether it’s migrants, Blacks, Asians or other under-represented people, DeSantis can be counted on to use them for his personal political gain. The land ban earlier this year had its roots in racist “Alien Land laws” in the 19th and 20th century that barred Asians from owning land. Like Trump’s scapegoating of China during COVID, it was a reckless call to racism that endangers Asians—as does the current claims about schools being part of a Chinese Communist plot.

In 2022, incidents of hate crimes against Asians increased by 339% according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. Students who attend the schools targeted by DeSantis and their families will not only be hurt financially but they—and their schools— must also now worry that DeSantis’s guilt by association will make them the targets of criticism, harassment and even threats.

It’s time for DeSantis and other conservative extremists stop their war on education which amounts to a war on children.

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