Former Charlie Crist School Choice Advocate Criticizes His Policy Flip: ‘It Made Me So Mad’

By Lydia Nusbaum, Florida's Voice

September 2, 2022 Updated 1:20 PM ET


TALLAHASSEE (FLV) – Denisha Allen, who once traveled Florida as a high school student promoting the then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist’s school choice priorities, now criticizes the Democrat’s current policies and running mate pick for another round as governor.

Allen failed the third grade twice in Florida public schools because she could not read. It was not until she received a scholarship for a private school that her life in education turned around. The Step Up for Students Scholarship provided Allen with the ability to tap into her potential at a private school.

“My life changed,” she said. “I went from making D’s and F’s to A’s and B’s and by graduation, making straight A’s.”

As a high school student, Allen began sharing her success story at donor events across the state to support corporate contributions for low-income scholarships in Florida, which was known as the Corporate Tax Credit Scholarships program. She even shared the stage with then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist who “raved” about Allen and her story.

“Your story is so awesome. That’s why we invest so much in this program and because of students like this, because of turnaround stories, like Denisha,” she recalled Crist saying in 2008.

The administration asked Allen and her godmother to drive from Jacksonville to Tallahassee for then-Governor Crist to sign a bill expanding the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. Allen is in a picture receiving the signing pen of Crist’s school choice expansion.

“It was amazing,” Allen explained. “I even received the signing pin. In high school, you can imagine me as a high school student, like being on news.”

Allen said she was not engaged politically until Crist flipped on his school choice priorities and joined the Democrat party.

“He said that his arm was pulled that he was not going to support the students,” she said. “He was going to defund the program, reduce charter schools, and it made me so mad, so livid that he could do something like that.”

Crist is the current Democrat candidate for governor against Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. Crist picking a Miami-Dade teachers union president, Karla Hernandez-Mats, as his running mate was a “slap in the face” to Allen.

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“He is the reason why I continue to fight for school choice. Not because I’ve benefited from it. That’s one of the reasons,” she explained. “But the reason why I got engaged politically and to fight against just the no nonsense that sometimes the Democratic Party has, is because of him.”

An EdWeek article noted that Crist had done the “biggest 180 you could ever do” with regards to school choice. Crist did not criticize the Florida Education Association’s lawsuit against the state’s tax-credit scholarship program that he signed into law. A Miami Herald article outlined how Crist said was “not going to” denounce the teachers unions for filing a lawsuit against the school-choice program.

After graduating from high school, Allen went to college and then attended graduate school. She worked for Secretary Betsy DeVos under the Trump Administration.

Allen works full-time at the American Federation for Children, which fights for parents to have a “wide range” of options to choose from, including traditional public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, homeschooling, and private schools. She also started the project Black Minds Matter, which is under the American Federation for Children.

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