ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida yanked four private school campuses, including the top-rated Park Maitland School, from its voucher programs because of “direct ties to the Chinese Communist Party,” Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office said late Friday.
The announcement by DeSantis — who has called the Communist Party of China the United States’ “greatest geopolitical threat” — did not provide any evidence of the ties it found between China and Park Maitland and two private schools in South Florida.
But Park Maitland, which serves students in preschool through eighth grade, says on its website that it is part of Spring Education Group, “a network of more than 230 private schools.” Spring Education, the website says, “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.”
DeSantis this spring signed a bill that prohibits private schools that take part in state voucher programs from being owned or controlled “by a person or entity domiciled in, owned by, or in any way controlled by a foreign country of concern or a foreign principal.” The new law lists China as one of the countries “of concern.”
Park Maitland officials could not be reached late Friday. The school, founded in 1968, has its main campus on U.S. Highway 17-92 in Maitland.
A news release from DeSantis’ office said the schools’ connections to China “constitute an imminent threat to the health, safety, and welfare of these school’s students and the public.”
For that reason, it suspended Park Maitland and Parke House Academy — a once separate private school in Winter Park now owned by Park Maitland and operating under the Park Maitland name — as well as Sagemont Preparatory School’s upper and lower campuses in Weston from the voucher programs, which provide state scholarships that can be used at private schools.
Sagemont also is part of Spring Education, according to its website, and also includes the same statement on its website about a controlling investment firm based in Hong Kong but owned by “Chinese persons.” Spring Education operates schools around the country, including ones in Arizona, California and Georgia, its website says.
“The Chinese Communist Party is not welcome in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said in a statement. “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.”
Park Maitland charges tuition of more than $20,000 a year for its first-to-eighth-grade program, according to its website. It boasts that it offers “a challenging and robust curriculum, innovative instruction, and a vibrant school community.”
It has an A+ rating and enrolls about 640 students, according to the school search website Niche.
Last school year, fewer than 50 of its students used state vouchers, according to Step Up For Students, which administers most of Florida’s scholarships. The school received more than $329,000 in scholarship money, Step Up’s data shows.
Its current scholarship numbers were not available, but Park Maitland may have more students using them this year because the scholarships, worth about $8,000 a year, were once targeted to low-income families but this year became available to everyone.
A spokesman for DeSantis did not respond late Friday to a request for more information on what the state discovered during what it called a “thorough investigation.”
The Chinese Communist Party has been a focus of DeSantis for the past two years, including his time on the presidential campaign trail.
In his economic plan revealed in August, DeSantis said he would “end our abusive relationship with the CCP, reverse our ever-increasing trade deficits, ban imports of goods made from stolen intellectual property, strengthen protections to stop child and forced labor, and end China’s preferential trade status.”
(Orlando Sentinel staff writer Jeffrey Schweers contributed to this report.)