DeSantis' latest anti-communist campaign targets Florida schools linked to Chinese firms

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Friday that four private schools will no longer be eligible for state school choice scholarships because he said they have ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

An administrator at one of the schools said the institution had no ties to any government "foreign or domestic."

Lower and Upper Sagemont Preparatory Schools located outside of Fort Lauderdale and two schools in Winter Park near Orlando, Parke House Academy and Park Maitland School, were found to have connections to the CCP through a Florida Department of Education investigation, according to a release by the Governor's office. Park House Academy is now a part of Park Maitland School and operating under the name Park Maitland South.

“The Chinese Communist Party is not welcome in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said in the release. “We will not put up with any attempt to influence students with a communist ideology or allow Floridians’ tax dollars to go to schools that are connected to our foreign adversaries.”

A growing conservative movement, school choice provides parents with school vouchers to apply towards private school. Florida expanded its school choice program in March, making the approximately $8,5000 vouchers eventually available to all K-12 students, some of whom could already be enrolled in private schools.

FDOE spokesperson Cailey Myers pointed to the fact that all schools are owned by Spring Education Group. According to the schools' websites, "Spring Education Group is controlled by Primavera Holdings Limited, an investment firm (together with its affiliates) principally based in Hong Kong with operations in China, Singapore, and the United States, that is itself owned by Chinese persons residing in Hong Kong."

Spring Education Group is a network of 220 private schools across 19 U.S. states and some in Asia, according to its website.

In a statement emailed to USA TODAY, Sagemont head of school Mellesia Nelson said that they were not contacted ahead of the decision and will be working with families to ensure continued education.

"We are regularly acknowledged as one of the best private schools in our area and have a track record of delivering outstanding educational outcomes, which is why parents choose us," her statement read. "Our schools are locally run, abide by local, state and federal laws, and do not have ties to any government or political party, either foreign or domestic. Our curriculum is accredited, standards-based and academically rigorous."

Park Maitland Schools did not respond to a request for comment.

In the release, DeSantis boasts other measures he has taken to target the Chinese Community Party within Florida. A hopeful for the Republican presidential nominee, he has made it a talking point throughout his campaign.

Here are some other moves DeSantis has made in promoting his stance against China.

Campaigning against the Chinese Communist Party in bid for president

DeSantis signed bill restricting people from China from buying property in Florida

Before DeSantis officially announced his bid for president, he signed SB 264, which prevents anyone connected with the CCP and people "domiciled" in China, except U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, from buying property in Florida.

"Today is one example of Florida really leading the nation in terms of what we're doing to stop the influence of the Chinese Communist party," DeSantis said at a press conference at the time.

The law also puts restrictions on property ownership for people from Russia, Iran, Korea, Cuba, Venezuela and Syria.

The law led a group of Chinese Floridians and a real estate brokerage firm to file a lawsuit in federal court, but a judge denied an injunction in August. Therefore, the law is still active while it is being challenged. Ashley Gorski, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union National Security Project told USA TODAY that the law “legitimizes and expands housing discrimination."

History of Chinese Communist Party concerns in Florida schools

DeSantis's announcement touted several other measures that he says targets the CCP. Those include:

Gov. Ron DeSantis talks during his bill signing ceremony of new legislation impacting the state's colleges and universities on Monday, May 15th, 2023, held at Sarasota's New College of Florida.
Gov. Ron DeSantis talks during his bill signing ceremony of new legislation impacting the state's colleges and universities on Monday, May 15th, 2023, held at Sarasota's New College of Florida.

Contributing: Nora O'Neill, Sarah Elbeshbishi, Minnah Arshad, USA TODAY; Katie Akin, Chris Higgins, Des Moines Register; Douglas Soule, USA TODAY Network - Florida, Denise Amos, The Florida Times-Union, Laura Pappano, The Hechinger Report, Jesse Mendoza, Sarasota-Herald Tribune

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: DeSantis stops funding 4 Florida schools citing Chinese Communist ties