Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Files Lawsuit Against U.S. Department of Education Over Accreditation Scheme

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education and its officials, including Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, alleging that the department is violating the U.S. Constitution by allowing higher education accreditation groups to “threaten” the status of state universities without oversight. The lawsuit specifically targets the federal government’s current accreditation scheme, which DeSantis argues is unconstitutional under the private non-delegation doctrine, the Appointments Clause, and the Spending Clause.[0] Florida passed a law last year requiring state colleges and universities to change accrediting agencies every 10 years, but the Education Department has issued guidance over the last year to make it more difficult for a Florida college or university to switch accreditors. The state is requesting a federal judge to dismiss the guidance at a minimum.[1]

Throughout his time in office, DeSantis has made it a priority to bring transparency and accountability to higher education and to reorient the mission of Florida’s colleges and universities away from purveying destructive ideologies and back toward the pursuit of truth and the preparation of students for success.[0] “I will not allow Joe Biden’s Department of Education to defund America’s #1 higher education system all because we refuse to bow to unaccountable accreditors who think they should run Florida’s public universities,” said DeSantis in a statement.[1]

The lawsuit is part of DeSantis’ broader focus on education, which has been a key pillar in his tenure as Florida governor and in his presidential campaign.[2] In the realm of higher education, his initiatives have entailed the enactment of legislation that makes it arduous for professors to maintain their tenure, constraining endeavors towards diversity, equity and inclusion, and substituting the board of a petite liberal arts college with members of a conservative persuasion.[2]

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS) is currently the accreditor for Florida institutions.[2] In addition to Florida, SACS serves as the accrediting agency for Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.[3] According to DeSantis, the Department of Education released three “guidance documents” that made it nearly impossible for schools to comply with Florida’s law mandating universities to change accreditors periodically.

The Education Department, however, has pushed back against DeSantis’ claims. A White House spokesperson accused DeSantis of bringing culture wars to the education sector and said, “If Republican elected officials could have their way, library shelves would be stocked with guns – not books – and curriculums would be loaded with conspiracy theories, not facts.[4] These culture wars do nothing to actually help students and only make things worse.”[4]

The lawsuit comes as some Florida universities are in the process of changing accrediting agencies, with accreditation key to schools receiving federal student aid.[5] DeSantis believes that within the next couple of years, the accreditation “cartel” will come crumbling down, and more freedom in higher education will reign supreme.[6]

0. “Governor DeSantis sues Biden Administration to ensure freedom in higher education” Alachua Chronicle, 22 Jun. 2023, https://alachuachronicle.com/governor-desantis-sues-biden-administration-to-ensure-freedom-in-higher-education/

1. “DeSantis sues Biden administration over accreditation” Inside Higher Ed, 23 Jun. 2023, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/quick-takes/2023/06/23/desantis-sues-biden-administration-over-accreditation

2. “DeSantis Sues Department Of Education In Latest Move Against Biden Administration” Benzinga, 22 Jun. 2023, https://www.benzinga.com/news/23/06/32978061/desantis-sues-department-of-education-in-latest-move-against-biden-administration

3. “DeSantis announces lawsuit over higher-education accreditation” ABC Action News Tampa Bay, 22 Jun. 2023, https://www.abcactionnews.com/news/state/desantis-announces-lawsuit-against-biden-admin-over-higher-education-accreditation

4. “DeSantis admin sues Biden’s Education Department” Axios, 23 Jun. 2023, https://www.axios.com/2023/06/22/desantis-education-departmen-lawsuit

5. “Florida sues feds over college accreditation” FOX 13 Tampa, 22 Jun. 2023, https://www.fox13news.com/news/florida-sues-feds-over-college-accreditation

6. “Ron DeSantis sues Biden, blasts college accreditation ‘cartel'” USA TODAY, 22 Jun. 2023, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2023/06/22/ron-desantis-sues-biden-administration-blasts-college-accreditation-cartel/70347997007

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