Florida contracts with Tallahassee-based MGT Consulting to create studies that address “social inequity.”
Politico | By Matt Dixon and Andrew Atterbury | July 11, 2022
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis has built a national reputation by condemning the use of race and gender in classrooms and workplace training — yet his state pays hundreds of thousands of dollars to a consulting firm that embraces and teaches racial inclusivity.
Florida currently contracts with Tallahassee-based MGT Consulting, a firm whose chairman and CEO is former Republican state Rep. Trey Traviesa. The company provides services such as creating “high-profile, racially sensitive studies that address social inequity and lead to recommendations for true social change.”
Most of the $700,000 the state has paid to MGT Consulting since DeSantis took office is paid through Florida’s Department of Education.
MGT Consulting’s lessons, according to its website and reports it has produced, appear to be in direct opposition to DeSantis’ effort to root out the use of race or gender in K-12 education or workforce training. His position has been widely criticized as whitewashing history by his political foes.
During the 2022 legislative session, DeSantis also championed the “Stop WOKE Act,” which banned the discussion of issues such as systemic racism in classrooms and workplace trainings, and required the Department of Education to develop a “stories of inspiration” curriculum.
MGT Consulting for decades — long before Traviesa joined the company — has focused much of its efforts on making recommendations on creating inclusive workplaces to taxpayer-funded entities using race and gender data, according to its website, reports and procurement documents POLITICO reviewed. In the documents, the company touts its familiarity specifically with critical race theory, an education philosophy vocally opposed by DeSantis that is focused on the teaching students about structural racism.
“We have carefully chosen a team that is well-versed in critical race theory, as well as the analysis necessary to develop a racially equitable organizational structure and racial equity plan,” read a proposal written by MGT last year to write a “Racial Equity Plan” for the city of Golden, Colo.
The pitch is among dozens the company has done across the country. The firm also says that it has experience in “all aspects of equity evaluation, diversity and social justice research, and critical race theory.”
The company was hired by the city of Charlottesville, Va., for a “groundbreaking” study in the wake of a 2016 rally that saw white supremacist clash with counterprotesters, leaving one dead. That fatal protest led President Donald Trump to say there were “fine people on both sides.”
The company has also done extensive work for Florida government entities, including using “race and gender” data that was “used to shape policy designed to increase diversity in [state university] institutions.”
POLITICO on Thursday sent the DeSantis administration links to MGT reports and procurement documents outlining the type of work the company does and a spreadsheet outlining payments to the company since DeSantis took office, asking if MTG’s work is at odds with DeSantis’ philosophy of how to teach students about gender and race.
A spokesperson brushed off the questions.
“This attachment has no annotation, and our office couldn’t possibly speculate about each of these contracts, nor assume the intended purpose of each engagement,” said Bryan Griffin, a DeSantis spokesperson. “We especially aren’t interested in speculating under the assumptions you presented based on work they have done in completely different states.”
He did not respond to follow-ups noting POLITICO sent primary source documents for their review, and that MGT specifically highlighted the fact it has critical race theory experts on its staff.
MTG also did not respond to a request for comment.
After this report published, Florida Department of Education officials said Monday that the agency has “never contracted with MGT for anything related to Critical Race Theory” since DeSantis took office in 2019.
“The Department does not police the work our contractors complete for other clients,” Alex Lanfranconi, director of communications for the Florida Department of Education, wrote in a statement. “Providing sporadic examples of MGT work in other states for unrelated organizations and attempting to connect it with the Florida Department of Education is dishonest and disappointing.”
The state has paid the firm nearly $700,000 since DeSantis took office, including nearly $130,000 from the Department of Education alone in 2022 — a time frame when DeSantis was escalating his push against the use of race and gender considerations in schools and workforce training.
During the April bill signing, DeSantis called critical race theory a “pernicious ideology” and said the new law would ban it from Florida classrooms.
“What we are doing here is actually enumerating the principles of CRT being put into practice into a whole variety of subjects,” DeSantis said. “We understand it is not one course. It’s an overall worldview people are trying to inject into our kid’s education.”
“That is not a true education, it is indoctrination,” he added.
The measure expands Florida’s anti-discrimination laws to prohibit schools and companies from leveling guilt or blame on students and employees based on race or sex, creating new protections for students and workers, including that a person should not be instructed to “feel guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” due to their race, color, sex or national origin.
“The legislation also changes Florida’s employment discrimination statutes to give employees the ability to file discrimination claims against an employer engaging in trainings or discussions about Black history, LGBTQ+ issues, and other concepts of injustice and discrimination,” the Human Rights Coalition said in a statement as soon as DeSantis signed the bill into law.
The legislation has been hit with two federal lawsuits as teachers, companies and at least one student allege free speech violations.
MGT Consulting has also been wrapped up in a Department of Education scandal that erupted over a $2.5 million deal to help run schools in struggling Jefferson County that had been operated by a charter school company.
Reports from the Miami Herald in January suggested the state bid was tailored specifically to MGT and that the company was given a heads-up about the project’s criteria.
But the process was blown up after state education officials also attempted to bid for the work, sparking an internal investigation over potential conflicts of interests and the resignation of a high-ranking FLDOE staffer and former state Board of Education chair.
When asked about the state trying to steer the Jefferson County contract to MGT, Griffin said the “characterization of the Jefferson issue is false and has been repeatedly refuted.”
He did not respond to follow-up questions seeking clarification.