Though the 2024 presidential election is still more than 600 days away, a couple of well-known Republicans have already entered the primary race. Others—including Florida governor Ron DeSantis—have indicated they will likely join the fray.
While he hasn’t declared his candidacy yet, political observers say DeSantis is clearly seeking to energize the Republican base by throwing them red meat on pressing social issues—particularly education, at both the K-12 and postsecondary levels. And many experts believe DeSantis’s education agenda in Florida is intended more as a preview of his platform for 2024 than as a serious attempt to address policy concerns in his state.
He’s not the only one; Greg Abbott of Texas and Glenn Youngkin of Virginia are also politicking on hot-button issues, driving the GOP higher education agenda while flirting with White House runs. Both have sought to bend education in their respective states to their political will, and while they have been more circumspect about their presidential prospects than DeSantis, both remain in early conversations about the 2024 election. Political pundits are watching closely as Youngkin and Abbott chase the Florida governor, who is setting the pace early on. And whether or not any of them run—let alone win the nomination—supporters and opponents alike are wondering how their state policies on higher ed will shape the national discourse heading into 2024.
DeSantis has maintained a ubiquitous media presence in recent months. He released a new book, popped up at private political events with wealthy donors and grabbed headlines for a conservative agenda that has energized supporters and terrified opponents.
Higher education has been central to that agenda. The governor has proposed sweeping reforms that, among other things, aim to defund diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at state institutions; provide trustees more power over hiring; allow for posttenure faculty review at any time; and eliminate majors in certain subjects focused on race and gender.
His administration has also sought data related to transgender health care at public universities, part of a broader battle over LGBTQ+ rights in Florida that includes restrictions on content related to sexual orientation and gender identity in K-12 classrooms. DeSantis has battled over the portrayal of race in the classroom, clashing with the College Board over the curriculum for its Advanced Placement class in African American Studies, ultimately barring the course from Florida schools on the grounds that it lacks educational value and is tantamount to indoctrination.