INDIAN RIVER COUNTY, Fla. — A handful of school board seats across Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast will be up for grabs during the November general election in less than three weeks, and we're seeing a bigger political influence than ever before.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and even out-of-state political action committees are endorsing candidates who align with their values.
"This is the year of the parent. This is the year of parental rights. These are the years of parental rights," said Indian River County School Board member Jacqueline Rosario.
Rosario is trying to hold onto her District 2 seat in the November election.
"I want to be the voice of reason and common sense and fighting for what is right," Rosario said. "Not just for children, but for their parents."
Rosario has the support of DeSantis, who officially endorsed the incumbent.
"It means the world. It's very honoring," Rosario said. "Sometimes I feel like I don't deserve it. But quite honestly, I can see how the endorsement matches, or rather the work I've been doing on the board matches the governor's agenda."
Rosario is also one of about 50 Florida school board candidates endorsed by the 1776 Project PAC. It's based in New York and is focused on fighting critical race theory in education. CRT is not part of Florida's public school curriculum.
According to Politico, the PAC spent about $400,000 on mailings and election messaging throughout the Sunshine State.
"One of the leaders in this whole movement has been Gov. Ron DeSantis," said WPTV political analyst Brian Crowley. "We're so divided now. Everything is a hot-blooded issue."
Crowley said the political influence in Florida school board races is unprecedented, stemming from a conservative view that schools have become too liberal.
"We've never seen PACs come into this state like this," Crowley said. "They are all around the country pushing a very conservative agenda. And they are determined they are going to influence the schools in Florida and elsewhere."
"I find it very interesting that it is clearly not non-partisan right now. And I truly believe that politics don't belong in schools," said parent and former teacher Cindy Gibbs, who is vying for Rosario's school board seat.
Gibbs said she's proud of her endorsements from the local realtors association and education association, among others, even if she doesn't have the backing of a major PAC.
"I really think our focus on education needs to be kept local," Gibbs said. "So, of course, it's impressive to have an endorsement from a state official. But I don't know that he has his finger on the pulse of our local education system here."
Crowley said in this and other races, voters will have to go with what matters most to them.
"Do they want candidates who are more influenced by out-of-state activists, or more influenced by local parents?" Crowley said. "Parents who get involved in their schools with their teachers. That's what local voters have to decide."
In the primary election in August, the Indian River County School Board race for District 2 had four candidates.
Rosario had 47% of the vote and Gibbs had 26%, bringing them to a runoff next month.