Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Sues U.S. Department of Education Over Alleged Constitutional Violations in State’s Education System

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is continuing his push to transform the state’s education system by suing the U.S. Department of Education for allegedly violating the Constitution.[0] The lawsuit claims the department is impeding Florida universities’ efforts to switch accrediting bodies, which is a significant priority for the state’s Republicans.[1] Last year, a law was passed in Florida that mandated state colleges and universities to switch accrediting agencies every 10 years.[2] However, the state alleges that the Education Department has issued guidance over the last year to make it more difficult for a Florida college or university to switch accreditors.[3] At the very least, the state is requesting a federal judge to dismiss the guidance.[3]

The process for switching accreditors is long and costly, but the requirement would make it harder for any single accrediting body to punish a school for displaying signs of political interference or curtailing academic freedom.[0] The U.S. Department of Education took note of Florida’s new law and warned that it would not tolerate changing accreditors to avoid oversight.[0] The requirement garnered sufficient grievances, prompting the legislature to partially retract it this year.[0]

The lawsuit, filed by Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, sues the Department of Education and various officials, arguing that the accreditors’ “unchecked power” over the state violates the US Constitution, and that SACSCOC “wields this power to interfere with the sovereign prerogatives of Florida.”[4]

For a college or university to fully operate in the United States with access to federal student loans, it must be accredited by federally approved private accrediting bodies known as “accreditors.”[5] DeSantis enacted a law last year that mandates colleges and universities to obtain accreditation from various accrediting bodies during successive accreditation periods.[6] Prior to that legislation, accrediting agencies had a monopoly on Florida colleges and universities and were able to control their operations by threatening to withhold accreditation if an institution didn’t adhere to the ideological agenda promoted by its accreditor.[6]

According to DeSantis, they are breaching the private non-delegation doctrine, the appointments clause, and the spending clause outlined in the U.S. Constitution.[7] Moody said, “We are fighting to take back our public postsecondary education system from unelected private organizations that have no accountability or oversight.”[6]

DeSantis is, famously, on a crusade to transform Florida’s education system into one that projects his own ideology.[0] However, one of the institutions standing in the way has been the accrediting body for Florida’s institutions of higher education.[0] On Thursday, DeSantis ratcheted up the power struggle by asking a federal court to find that the nation’s system for accrediting colleges and universities is unconstitutional.[0] If you find that the referees are not ruling in your favor, simply attempt to eject them from the game.[0]

DeSantis declared at his press briefing that Florida’s state universities and colleges have been placed at the top of the rankings for public higher education in the United States under his leadership. He also alleged that the U.S. Department of Education was unlawfully obstructing his administration’s attempts to introduce greater transparency and responsibility in Florida’s state higher education institutions, and was working together with accreditation organizations to achieve this.[5]

“We reject the idea that a totally unaccountable, appointed, unelected accrediting agency can trump what the state of Florida is doing,” DeSantis said during a news conference in Tampa.[8]

0. “Ron DeSantis Has Launched a New Battle in His War to Control Public Universities – Mother Jones” Mother Jones, 23 Jun. 2023, https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2023/06/ron-desantis-accreditation/

1. “DeSantis challenges Biden on another legal front — college accreditation” POLITICO, 22 Jun. 2023, https://www.politico.com/news/2023/06/22/desantis-slams-college-accreditation-00103176

2. “DeSantis sues Education Department over higher ed accreditation process” Yahoo! Voices, 22 Jun. 2023, https://www.yahoo.com/news/desantis-sues-education-department-over-171017096.html

3. “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

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

5. “Florida sues federal government over school accreditation collaboration” KPVI News 6, 23 Jun. 2023, https://www.kpvi.com/news/national_news/florida-sues-federal-government-over-school-accreditation-collaboration/article_b57a3a35-f4b1-5bc0-b1d4-7d56345696de.html

6. “WATCH: Gov. Ron DeSantis Sues Biden Administration to Ensure Freedom in Higher Education” SpaceCoastDaily.com, 23 Jun. 2023, https://spacecoastdaily.com/2023/06/watch-gov-ron-desantis-sues-biden-administration-to-ensure-freedom-in-higher-education/

7. “Florida Governor Sues The Biden Administration” WFXB, 23 Jun. 2023, https://www.wfxb.com/2023/06/23/florida-governor-sues-the-biden-administration

8. “Florida files suit over federal university accreditation rules” Tampa Bay Times, 23 Jun. 2023, https://www.tampabay.com/news/education/2023/06/23/florida-files-suit-over-federal-university-accreditation-rules/

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