Trump Promotes a Conservative ‘Champion’ in Education



Florida Representative Byron Donalds and his wife Erika have long been involved in efforts to inject Christianity and conservative values into education, including lobbying for the funneling of public funds into private and charter schools. The pair has close ties to influential conservative groups like Moms for Liberty and Florida Citizens Alliance, and have both made remarks disparaging homosexuality. The couple’s work has led to direct financial gain, with Ms. Donalds running a charter school management operation funded by public money, while Mr. Donalds pushes for legislation that expands access to charter schools and voucher programs.

Political Influence in Education: Case of Byron Donalds

In 2021, Florida Republican Representative Byron Donalds and his wife Erika joined the Truth & Liberty Coalition, a group advocating for Christianity in public institutions. The couple was honored for their efforts in championing charter education in Florida. Mr. Donalds, a former state legislator, established a school voucher program promoting biblical worldview education.

With a career centered on reforming public education, evangelical Christianity, and supporting Donald Trump, Mr. Donalds has experienced rapid political growth. Despite being in his second term, he’s become a recognized surrogate for Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign and a conservative media regular.

Mr. Donalds’ influence hasn’t gone unnoticed by Mr. Trump. He’s privately labeled Mr. Donalds as “the next governor of Florida,” and even considered him as a potential running mate. In Florida, the Donalds couple’s work in education policy and charter school advocacy has not been surprising.

Their involvement in education policy predates recent controversies over book bans and critical race theory. They’ve been part of an influential network seeking to transform traditional public education by redirecting funds into charter or private schools.

Mr. Donalds’ policy endorsements permitted outside groups larger influence in school curriculums. This was even before Florida Governor Ron DeSantis made it easier for such groups to remove books from school libraries and put limitations on teaching about sexuality and gender.

The couple is associated with leading forces in these debates like Moms for Liberty, Hillsdale College, and the Florida Citizens Alliance, all of which have campaigned to remove inappropriate books from schools. Both Mr. and Ms. Donalds have made negative remarks about homosexuality.

Ms. Donalds’ business and non-profit have benefited from legislative changes expanding access to charter schools and voucher programs, leading to increased public funding. This has enhanced their reputation as warriors in the fight for quality education, which is now recognized nationally.

A Conversion

Education was always important to Mr. Donalds, shaped by his upbringing in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. His mother, a public-school teacher, moved him from public to private schools to better challenge his capabilities.

His wife, whom he met in college, introduced him to evangelical Christianity. Their life in Naples, Florida, saw them become active in local schools and charter school advocacy. They became involved in the local school board and even established a charter school.

In 2017, Mr. Donalds joined the Florida House of Representatives, representing a Naples-area district. At the same time, Ms. Donalds started OptimaEd, a charter school management operation. Mr. Donalds co-sponsored a bill that allowed charter schools to secure additional funding from local tax initiatives.

However, their overlapping careers have led to potential conflicts with family businesses. According to contracts, Ms. Donalds’ company was paid around a 10% share of the schools’ public funding for providing HR, marketing, and other services. This led to tensions with the schools, with three charter schools terminating their contracts with OptimaEd due to complaints about insufficient fund allocation.

Meanwhile, Mr. Donalds has shown support for some of Mr. DeSantis’s education policies, proudly claiming the law allowing anyone to petition to remove a book from a school library as a continuation of his work in the legislature. Despite criticism and pushback from schools, Mr. Donalds remains dedicated to his vision for education.

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