May 20, 2024

Florida is known for making headlines. From the well-known “Florida man” parodies to its corruption, scandals, and reactionary politics. However, the content of all these stories reflects the content of capitalist media as a whole: an absence of any reference to the serious issues of the day. None can answer the question of how a rotting system brings with it a moral depravity that leads the people of Florida to such social evils and they certainly cannot get to the heart of what has led to the surge of Florida governor Ron DeSantis on to the political scene. Such press coverage completely passes over ideological questions opting for narrow-minded antics in order to pander to backwards views and replace discussion with idle talk about politics and “personalities”. With a penchant for tidbits from the lives of the henchmen of the capitalist class, the bourgeois press veers away from disclosing the painful issues affecting social life and avoids any analysis of the interests of the individual classes in capitalist society. 

Looking closely at the rhetoric employed by newspapers during election campaigns, it becomes evident that their primary purpose is to deceive and mislead voters, creating a temporary illusion of belief in the vague political agendas put forth by bourgeois parties. One county in Florida, Okaloosa County, serves as a prime example of how the capitalist system operates through ruthless and unscrupulous campaigns. Here, a fierce battle unfolds among different business groups and their representatives, all vying to deliver the schools to the needs of companies through elections of school board members and superintendents. The position of superintendent is a crucial tool for the exploiting minority to protect and advance the interests of the ruling class. Frequently, this role becomes a stepping stone for consolidating the political dominance of oligarchs and their families. This battleground illuminates the inner workings of how capitalist forces maneuver to shape the educational systems around the priorities of the companies.

A notable example is the Gaetz family, whose combined wealth amounts to nearly $30 million. Don Gaetz, who built his fortune as a prominent figure in the hospice industry, particularly with VITAS Healthcare, made a name for himself in Okaloosa County politics. Serving as the superintendent of Okaloosa County schools, he capitalized on the momentum generated by Florida’s “educational model” established by Jeb Bush in 1999 [1]. This model aligned the education system with the interests of profit, fundamentally transforming public schools into tools serving the competitive needs of US capital. The consequences of this transformation are evident in the infiltration of private individuals and companies into the education sector, infusing corporate development models into the fabric of the school system. Of particular concern are the underlying ideological implications of capitalism, such as the notion of “school choice,” which further exacerbates the privatization of education. In essence, this approach set the stage for the gradual dismantling of public schools. 

The persistent presence of privatization schemes funded by public funds has remained on Florida government agendas for decades. It is a scandal sparking outrage year after year; one that has been a wildfire with the rise to prominence of governor Ron DeSantis. The DeSantis government has championed the cause of “school choice” and outmaneuvered the Democrats by vying for dominance in local school board elections. In 2019, Okaloosa County became a focal point of such maneuvering after Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson was suspended and replaced by Marcus Chambers. Without delay, Chambers put students and families on the same level as business partners demonstrating that there is not even the intention of hiding the collaboration of schools and private individuals. Chambers assumed the superintendent position amidst the economic crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. He oversaw the schools in a district, like the rest in Florida, which experienced the impasse of the management of the crisis by the DeSantis government and its “Re-opening Plan”. This plan was a slap in the face to the families of the 87,000 people lost during the management of the crisis and the government of Florida made it crystal clear that it would protect the monopolies over the lives of students, workers, and people. 

Chambers, succumbing to the threats made by the DeSantis government’s ban on enforcing face masks in school districts, reveals a shared understanding with DeSantis that various companies wield decision-making power in the management of schools funded by them [2]. This was evident during the same meeting where the Okaloosa County School District was granted $2.8 million for artificial intelligence, machine learning, and unmanned systems [3]. The grant was awarded by Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc., chaired by Don Gaetz, which represents the interests of large corporations across the Panhandle. The awarding of the grant, touted as the idea of Chambers, only reflects the growing need for an acquisition of skills necessary for the job market brought on by the rapid expansion and investment in AI technologies. It transfers the costs of company training to the schools and further pushes the school in the direction of the responsibility of training workers. While Chambers often emphasizes his concern for children, his concern extends only as far as aligning their education and training with the needs of companies.

During the 2020 election campaign for the superintendent seat, a fierce battle unfolded, reflecting the struggle between those seeking an opportunity to subject the schools to the needs of the market. Two major groups, the Jay Odom Group and the Gaetz family, represented these interests and funneled thousands of dollars into political action committees that drummed up petty issues against the opposing candidates [4]. Ray Sansom, backed by the Odom group, lost the election, showcasing the impact of his tarnished reputation due to Sansom and Odom’s joint involvement in various scandals [5]. These scandals were capitalized on by Chamber’s campaign which drew in the financial support of the Gaetz family and co. which includes some of the current members of the Board of the Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc such as the Bear Family Foundation and J. Collier Merrill [6]. The election outcome cannot, as many of the local news claimed, be deemed a resounding mandate of the Okaloosa County residents. Chambers competed in a 2020 Primary Election with a voter turnout of only 30%, or 43,169 voters out of the 142,666 total registered voters [7]. Of those who voted, 42,131 cast their votes for a superintendent, and Chambers emerged as the winner with 27,732 votes, roughly accounting for 19% of the total registered voters in Okaloosa County. The local press failed to report this significant fact. 

Throughout his tenure, Chambers has aligned himself with Governor DeSantis and former President Trump [8], openly expressing his support for the expanded voucher scheme. This scheme, passed with the complicity of the Democrats who claim to defend public education, diverts larger sums of state funding towards private schools by extending the eligibility of vouchers to all children in Florida. Chambers has solidified his vision for the schools in Okaloosa County [9]. It is a spit in the face of the families who shell out thousands of dollars each year to allow their children to attend public schools. Further, it is a grave insult to a public school system that has become a pauper on its knees after years of cuts in funding. Protecting “freedom of choice” means giving discounts for those who can afford to pay tuition to enroll their children in a private school. 

Chambers throws his lot in with those who attempt to manipulate and control the consciousness of the younger generation under the guise of eliminating “woke ideology” and “inappropriate political agendas”. They beat the war drums of imperialist intervention in Cuba, rewrite and falsify the history that was written by the people with their blood and struggle, with the communists and the world’ socialist state, the Soviet Union, in the front line. Such attacks are a precursor for the onslaught against the rights of students, workers, and people. They come hand-in-hand with support for reactionary and nationalist policies. Such is the case with the DeSantis government targeting teachers’ unions and the LGBT+ community. Anti-communism, like that displayed recently by Trump, sharpens as the onslaught of the business groups become ever more savage against the working class and popular strata with the aim of promoting their positions against the backdrop of fierce competition.  

Chambers, having gathered nearly $150,000 from similar sources as in 2020, has officially filed for reelection in 2024, and currently stands as the sole candidate in the race [10]. The last challenge to the school board officials favored by Chambers occurred in 2022, when the group Yes For Okaloosa Schools (YES4OK) emerged. YES4OK, entirely funded by retired US Air Force veteran Patrick Ryan, campaigned on a platform centered around the phrase-mongering of “accountability.” The tub-thumping of YES4OK essentially involves opposing the current school board, proposing three of their own candidates, and advocating for the superintendent position to be appointed by the governor. While YES4OK brings attention to the need for structural improvements and updates in all school buildings, this is not an issue that has gone unnoticed by Chambers. The real question lies in which companies will ultimately benefit from the allocation of public funds associated with lucrative contracts for upgrading and constructing new schools. Considering the substantial financial support and connections Chambers enjoys from prominent real estate development groups and the Gaetz family, it becomes evident who will reap the benefits

It is clear that regardless of which representative the bourgeoisie chooses to lead the schools the result is the same: systematic disqualification of public education. The responsibility of this tragedy lay in the hands of those who for years have carried out countless cuts in education. Our education system is increasingly subjected to the laws that regulate the free competitive market of which the primary objective is no longer guaranteeing the best possible education and all-round development. Instead, the logic of business enables students and schools to compete with each other to excel in rankings and grab more funding. Teachers are substantially influenced by the school-company relationship which places them in the confines of supporting notional knowledge with the end goal anchored in the results of state tests. Governments and the bosses are well aware that educating today’s students in such conditions means educating tomorrow’s workers. The class school becomes evident, separated by rankings of A through F.

The question arises, is the model school possible under the current system? Obviously not. Neither Chambers nor any superintendent, Republican or Democrat, can fix this. The mobilization of students, alongside workers and unemployed, teachers and school workers, is the only perspective that can allow real progress: an improvement in general living conditions, a wage increase and an increase in the quality of education and infrastructure. We must say no to the school of bosses every step of the way. 

[1] Q&A Senator Don Gaetz

[2] Ron Filipkowski. Marcus Chambers video filmed at school board meeting.

[3] Summary of Grant Award Agreement Between Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc. and Okaloosa County School District

[4] PAC money tracked to familiar sources as local political campaigns turn negative

[5] Sansom’s key friend escapes spotlight

[6] Candidate: Marcus Chambers. Contributions. Primary Election 2020.

[7] 2020 Primary Election. Official Results.

[8] Black Trump supporter: “Who is Joe Biden to question someone’s blackness”

[9] Will Vouchers Cripple Okaloosa Public Schools? Here’s What the Experts Say:

[10] 2022 Election Cycle (11/8/2022). Marcus Chambers.