After an acrimonious legislative session with a spate of education bills that saw fierce pushback from students and faculty, Florida was deemed the No. 1 state for education in U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranking.
The ranking, announced this week, was largely based on Florida’s public higher education system, which scored above other states on metrics including graduation rates, cost of degrees and student debt. The state’s pre-K-12 system ranked No. 14, based on high school graduation rates, preschool enrollment rates and results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, among other measurements.
The report stated that the average Floridian graduated from college with around $5,000 less in student debt and the high school graduation rate was about 4 percentage points higher than the national average.
Filling out the top 10 states for overall education were New Jersey at No. 2, followed by Massachusetts, Colorado, Utah, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Connecticut, New York and Washington. Florida has held the No. 1 ranking for higher education from U.S. News since 2017.
The Florida Department of Education released a statement crediting Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“Since Governor DeSantis took office, Florida has prioritized education by providing teachers historic salary increases, ensuring students were able to return to in-person instruction following the COVID-19 pandemic, abolishing woke ideology from the classroom, eliminating Common Core and transitioning to a progress monitoring system for accountability,” the statement said.
Education Commissioner Manny Diaz said in the statement that the “Florida education model stands alone as a shining example for all other states to follow.”
But some education groups across the state took umbrage, citing a range of bills that sought to legislate what can and can’t be included in curriculum. Measures targeted diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at colleges and universities, made it easier to ban books, and expanded restrictions on classroom discussions about gender and race.
Andrew Gothard, president of the state’s biggest faculty union, United Faculty of Florida, said the education department’s comments about the rankings were “hypocrisy of the highest order.”
Gothard said that he took pride in the rankings but that they were “in spite of, not because of the Florida Department of Education, Gov. Ron DeSantis and his supporters in the Legislature.”
He said faculty and students deserved the credit, but instead the state treated them like “criminals.”
Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, said in a statement that the rankings were based on a “narrow view of education,” but that the governor’s actions to limit content and books would have an impact on the same test scores that figured into the U.S. News & World Report’s calculations.
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“Gov. DeSantis may use this ranking as a political badge of honor, but his own actions over the past two years will likely drag Florida down,” Spar said.
Divya Kumar covers higher education for the Tampa Bay Times, in partnership with Open Campus.