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A staunch school choice advocate who served in the Department of Education during former President Trump’s tenure in the White House is hitting out at Charlie Crist, the Democratic candidate for Florida governor, for her change of support for educational policies which she and other students have benefited from.
In an interview with Fox News Digital, Denisha Merriweather, a Florida native and director of family engagement for the American Federation for Children, said Crist, a former Republican, must think voters are suffering from “amnesia.” She argues the former Florida governor has forgotten how passionate Sunshine State residents are about school choice, a process that gives parents the ability to decide which educational opportunities best suit their child’s needs. .
Describing her troubled upbringing in the public school system, Merriweather said she attended her district public school from kindergarten through fifth grade and “failed third grade twice” because she could not read.
“I even got accepted into a remedial program to help me catch up on my good grade,” she said. “It wasn’t a good environment for me. I was harassed by other students, and I was in an environment where the teachers didn’t really seem to want to help me. The teachers were literally sighing when I came to the door and everything changed when I got a scholarship to go to a private school in Jacksonville, Florida, a small private school, and it was my godmother who found out about the scholarship.”
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“I went from getting D’s and F’s to getting A’s and B’s consistently, I even started getting A’s in high school. I went to this school from sixth to 12th grade on the scholarship Florida tax credit and that’s when I had the opportunity to meet Governor Charlie Crist, several times in fact, because of his support of the scholarship program.
Merriweather said she “spoke on stage right next to” Crist at an event as a high school student when she discussed school choice and how it had a positive impact on her life.
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“Shortly after, my sponsor and I were invited to the Tallahassee Capitol to be in the photo of him signing the expansion bill, the biggest expansion bill for the scholarship program ever. education and tax credit,” Merriweather said. recalled. “I was standing right behind him. I was so excited, so happy, and he reached out and gave me the signing pen.”
Since those days, however, Merriweather’s view of Crist’s sincerity and concern for students across the state who might struggle in district schools has changed dramatically.
“When I tell you it was such a slap in the face when he showed up, again, in the state of Florida as a Democrat and said, ‘Oh, they were pulling my arm. …I really didn’t want to do that, I don’t think this program helps you.’ He wanted to cut funding for the program, cut funding for charter schools in the state. As a teenager, I took it personally and that’s why I became more involved in the school choice fight and the school choice movement.
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“I wanted to understand the politics behind the case…why as a Republican he supported school choice and came out and signed an expansion bill and invited me – I did taken very personally – and then on the other hand, as a Democrat, says he wanted to put the program on hold,” she added. “It was the wrong decision he made. At the same time in Florida, the teachers’ unions were continuing the program, the tax credit scholarship program, so it was a mess. And now that he is running again for governor, it is truly a slap in the face to the thousands of students who have benefited from this program.”
Merriweather said she thinks Crist may be suffering from “amnesia” and trying to get elected to a powerful office, not because he wants to represent Florida students.
“I think he’s trying to get in where he can,” Merriweather said of Crist. “When he ran two election cycles ago, he ran as a Democrat and I think he really forgot that parents and students in Florida want school choice and we we’re not going to turn our backs on the support we’ve had for all these years, for almost a decade now, from governors who have supported the choice in the state of Florida,” she said. “What he’s trying to achieve, I really think he thinks we have amnesia. I don’t know what he’s trying to get out of it.”
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“It looks like a run that won’t be very successful for him considering how much we like school choice in the state,” she added. “We turned down Andrew Gillum. There was a plethora of black mother voters this past cycle who did not support Andrew Gillum because of the unwavering support and need black women have for their children. go to a big state school.”
Calling him a “damn good governor,” Merriweather praised incumbent Florida GOP Governor Ron DeSantis for keeping his campaign promises regarding school choice.
“As soon as he took office, he didn’t wait until it was his last session, he did it immediately,” she said. “He eliminated the waitlist, created a special scholarship account, and then on top of that he created an expanded elective program in the state and signed it into law.”
Following her DC career in the Department of Education where she worked as an assistant alongside former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Merriweather founded Black Minds Matter in 2020, a self-proclaimed national group “dedicated to liberating the black spirits”.
In a tweet on Monday, Merriweather said Crist had “turned his back on students” after signing a measure into law during his tenure as governor of Florida to expand school choice.
“This is me in the photo receiving the signature pen from him expanding a school choice in Florida,” she wrote. “Since then, he has turned his back on the students. What a shame !
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Over the weekend, Crist, who has represented Florida’s 13th congressional district in the House since 2017, chose United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats to be his running mate in the election.
Crist will face DeSantis in the November general election for governor of Florida.