In order to be eligible for federal funding, schools are mandated by federal law to submit themselves to private accrediting bodies.
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) —Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced on Thursday that the state has taken legal action against the Biden administration and the U.S. Department of Education regarding accreditation agencies’ control over federal aid for students.
The lawsuit was filed on Wednesday in a federal court in Fort Lauderdale. Its primary challenge is aimed at a federal law that mandates colleges and universities to adhere to private accreditors’ guidelines to qualify for federal funding. The defendants named in the lawsuit include the U.S. Department of Education, Secretary Miguel Cardona, and other federal officials.
Governor DeSantis, who is vying for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has been implementing his conservative agenda in Florida’s education system. As part of these efforts, earlier this year, he appointed trustees to the board of New College of Florida—a small Sarasota school known for its progressive ideas and innovative courses. The newly appointed board aims to transform the college into a classical liberal arts institution inspired by Hillsdale College in Michigan, a favored institution among conservatives.
Governor DeSantis expressed his opposition to “unaccountable accreditors” who he believes should not have control over Florida’s public universities. He stated that the lawsuit seeks to establish the unconstitutionality of the current arrangement.
Presently, private accrediting agencies, as stipulated by federal law, determine the eligibility of universities and colleges for around $112 billion in federal funding. These agencies set specific requirements that institutions must meet to maintain their accreditation.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS) is responsible for accrediting colleges and universities in Florida. However, a law was enacted in Florida last year that prohibits educational institutions from being accredited by the same agency or association for consecutive accreditation cycles. Additionally, the law grants universities the right to sue accreditors for damages if they believe they have been negatively affected.
Due to this law, more than half of Florida’s public colleges and universities are required to change their accrediting bodies within the next two years. However, Governor DeSantis has criticized the Biden administration for what he sees as an “abuse of the current accreditation scheme,” claiming that it substantially hampers the universities’ ability to make these changes.
To seek accreditation from a new accrediting body, universities in Florida must first obtain permission from the U.S. Department of Education. Governor DeSantis argued that delegating legislative power to an unaccountable private entity is inappropriate. He expressed concern that the accrediting agency is attempting to assume the responsibility of overseeing the well-being of colleges and universities, thereby diminishing the role of the governor, legislature, and taxpayers in this regard.
Governor DeSantis firmly rejected the notion that the accrediting agency holds supremacy over the entire state of Florida, stating that it undermines the state’s authority. As a result, he announced plans to take action against this perceived overreach.