UPDATE 4:16 pm: Vice President Harris responded to DeSantis at a Florida appearance Tuesday, saying: "I'm here in Florida, and I will tell you there is no roundtable, no lecture, no invitation we will accept to debate an undeniable fact. There were no were redeeming qualities of slavery."
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida governor and presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis on Monday issued a challenge to Vice President Kamala Harris: make a trip to the Sunshine State this week to discuss and debate Florida's educational standards. The open letter, shared by DeSantis Press Secretary Jeremy Redfern, implored Harris to debate him on a controversial new curriculum in Florida concerning African American history.
The passage that recently made Florida a lightning rod for criticism and controversy is a part of the Florida Board of Education's standards for teaching students about slavery. Among its points, the guidelines posit that enslaved Black Americans benefited from the skills forced onto them as slaves, and that they bear part of the responsibility for some of America's most notorious race riots and massacres.
In particular, the curriculum instructs teachers to portray events like the Ocoee Massacre, where 30-35 Black people were killed while trying to vote, as being 'perpetrated against and by African Americans'. Two White Americans were killed as well.
Passages such as this have attracted near-unanimous condemnation from DeSantis' left-leaning critics, as well as a good deal from fellow Republicans. Byron Donalds, a Black Republican congressman from southwest Florida and former DeSantis ally, has called on the governor to change the policy.
DeSantis has defended the standards as being an accurate representation of history, and is now taking the debate to his opponents. "I am officially inviting you back down to Florida to discuss African American History standards," the Governor said to Vice President Harris in his letter. "What an example we could set for the nation - a serious conversation on the substance of an important issue!"
Also in his letter, DeSantis made an effort to defend Florida's record on education, calling it number one in the nation in that regard. His claim is backed by U.S. News & World Report, who ranked Florida as the #1 education state in its most recent listing. Florida is 7th in high school graduation rate, 26th in bachelor's degree completion rate, 44th in funding per student, and 44th in average SAT score. It is also 47th in teacher compensation.
DeSantis also boasted successful socially conservative initiatives in Florida's schools in the last couple years. He mentioned his campaign against Critical Race Theory, a college-level curriculum which has been largely discussed and often misunderstood in recent political discourse. There was no evidence Critical Race Theory (CRT for short) was prevalent or possibly existent at all in Florida's K-12 public classrooms, but public outcry against it as a concept has led to significant changes to how Florida teaches issues of race.
To that end, the 'Stop W.O.K.E. Act' was passed by the legislature in an attempt to weed out instruction that was considered to make people uncomfortable on the basis of race in either the classroom or the workplace. That law was mostly struck down in court as a violation of the First Amendment.
For better or worse, DeSantis' opponents in the 2024 Republican presidential primary are sure to challenge him on his education record, as is President Joe Biden if DeSantis is the GOP nominee. In the event Harris accepted her standing invitation, it may give DeSantis the vibe of a general election candidate to GOP voters, him being the only Republican candidate who'd have debated a Biden administration official directly this cycle. For that reason, Harris may decline or ignore the request. Time will tell in the coming days.