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Democratic Govs. Newsom, Pritzker push back against DeSantis after Florida blocks AP African American studies course

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration blocked teaching the course, touching a nerve in Democratic governors of other states.
Gavin Newsom and J.B. Pritzker
Gavin Newsom, left and J.B. Pritzker.Getty Images; AP

WASHINGTON — Two prominent Democratic governors are pushing back against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis after his administration blocked teaching an Advanced Placement course in African American studies.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is urging the College Board not to appease DeSantis, a likely 2024 Republican presidential candidate, and to alter the course curriculum. And California Gov. Gavin Newsom expressed outrage that Republicans are concerned about the class after a series of mass shootings. Both Democratic governors are also seen as potential future presidential candidates.

"I am writing to you today to urge the College Board to preserve the fundamental right to an education that does not follow the political grandstanding of Governor DeSantis and the whims of Republicans in Florida," Pritzker wrote in a letter to the College Board, first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times and obtained by NBC News.

"I am extremely troubled by recent news reports that claim Governor DeSantis is pressuring the College Board to change the AP African American Studies course in order to fit Florida’s racist and homophobic laws," Pritzker said, calling on the College Board to "refuse to bow to political pressure that would ask you to rewrite our nation’s true, if sometimes unpleasant, history."

DeSantis’ administration rejected the AP African American studies program in a letter this month to the College Board, which oversees AP classes.

The state pointed to six areas of concern and works by Kimberlé W. Crenshaw; Gloria Jean Watkins, known by her pseudonym bell hooks; Angela Davis; and other Black authors. And at a news conference Monday, DeSantis and Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. argued that the course is a Trojan horse for “indoctrinating” students with a left-wing ideology under the guise of teaching about the Black experience and African American history (which is mandated in the state).

Asked about the course at a news conference Monday, DeSantis said: "We have guidelines and standards in Florida. We want education, not indoctrination." He added: "This course on Black history, what's one of the lessons about? Queer theory. ... That is somebody pushing an agenda on our kids."

Pritzker, meanwhile, said Illinois expects any AP course focused on African American studies "to include a factual accounting of history, including the role played by black queer Americans."

Pritzker said many students who take the class "encounter racism on a personal and systemic level long before they reach high school." They deserve to learn "the honest and accurate history of the nation they live in now" so mistakes of the past aren't repeated, he continued, adding, "This cannot be achieved when a misleading version of history is taught."

Meanwhile, Newsom appeared exasperated with Republicans as he dealt with the aftermath of a trio of mass shootings in California in the last several days in which at least 19 people died.

"We can sit there and say thoughts and prayers, or we can look in the mirror and say this is the price, I guess, of whatever, fill in the blank, freedom," Newsom told reporters Wednesday.

Newsom suggested Republicans "don't believe in public safety" because they haven't taken action after mass shootings to prevent more from occurring.

"The No, 1 death for children last year was gun-related, and you didn't do a damn thing. Congress is sitting on this, but you've got politicians that are banning not assault rifles but the word ‘Latinx.’ They're not even serious ... AP courses," he said. "What is going on in this country?"

The College Board said Tuesday it would release a new framework for the AP course, which it said has been under development since March. The Florida Education Department said it welcomed the revisions, even though they haven't yet been released.