Harris rejects DeSantis' invitation to come to Tallahassee to talk about education issues

Vice president was in Orlando on Tuesday, day after governor's message
Posted at 6:42 PM, Aug 01, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-01 21:10:38-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — For a second time in less than two weeks, Vice President Kamala Harris was in Florida to denounce new state standards for teaching African=American History in public schools. The changes are backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who’s now calling on the vice president to meet with state education officials in Tallahassee and discuss, an invitation she rejected.

DeSantis sent his letter to Harris on Monday. He pushed her to come to Tallahassee and chat with those who helped craft the new guidance as soon as Wednesday.

“It’s past time to set the record straight," DeSantis said. "In Florida, we are unafraid to have an open and honest dialogue about the issues.”

Harris offered her response, Tuesday, in Orlando. It was an unequivocal no.

"Right here in Florida, they plan to teach students that enslaved people benefited from slavery," Harris said. "There is no roundtable, no lecture, no invitation we will accept to debate an undeniable fact: There were no redeeming qualities about slavery."

The Florida stop is yet another sign President Joe Biden's reelection effort not only still sees a swing in the swing state ahead of 2024, but that the history standards are a weak spot in the governor's political armor.

Florida's State Board of Education approved the changes last month. Their lessons include instruction on "how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit" and "acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans.”

Officials including Paul Burns, the Florida DOE Chancellor of K-12 Public Schools, have defended the changes as honest and fair. 

"Our standards are factual, objective standards,"Burns said last month. "That really teach the good, the bad, and the ugly." 

The governor's presidential campaign has also leaned into the standards despite blowback from even fellow Republicans. DeSantis surrogates now are urging VP Harris to reconsider her opposition to a sitdown.

"A lot of people know that she's not telling the truth, and you know, for her to sit down," Quisha King, a DeSantis 2024 surrogate, said. "I think you know, maybe it would show some character, some dignity, some integrity, I think that that would be a great idea."

While the meeting seems unlikely, Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz is set to attend a town hall next week in Miami Gardens to defend and discuss the standards. State Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat, is the organizer.

"The fact of the matter is, people want answers regardless of what the politics is -- right?" Jones said. "We owe it to the community."

Time will tell what comes of that meeting. The new standards, meanwhile, are set to take effect in the coming academic year. The first of Florida's school districts are set to start class next Thursday.