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Ron DeSantis: Education Governor
Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran is dubbing Ron DeSantis the “Education Governor” as he highlighted the state’s accomplishments in 2019.
Corcoran called out dozens of items in a news release recapping the year in education. Among those initiatives were a $75 per-student increase in the Base Student Allocation, an increase in school choice scholarships and several items pushing to improve mental health treatment in schools.
Not all of those moves were popular with educators, as public school advocates called out those school choice reforms in particular. But Corcoran argues the measures are moving the state forward.
“After a historic 2019 Legislative Session, Gov. DeSantis has come back bigger and better than before with his newly announced Bolder, Brighter, Better Future Budget,” Corcoran said.
“Last Session, Gov. DeSantis proved to be a true leader by securing wins for students, parents, and teachers through policies that have changed the educational landscape for decades to come. Florida students and educators are set up for success with Gov. DeSantis advocating for them, and I commend him for taking this bold action to ensure Florida is on the path to becoming #1 in the nation in education.”
Corcoran’s shoutout to the Governor’s budget proposal includes praise for a $602 million proposal to raise starting teacher pay in the state.
DeSantis added remarks rounding up his education agenda going forward.
“As 2019 comes to a close and I reflect on my first full year as Gov., I am extremely proud of the work we have done for Florida’s students, families and teachers,” he said.
“We have secured historic education funding, increased educational choice options, increased school safety and mental health awareness, expanded opportunities for career and technical education, elevated and celebrated educators, and so much more. I am looking forward to celebrating continued success throughout 2020 as we build on this positive momentum to ensure there is no better state in the nation to receive a world-class education.”
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson and the staff of Florida Politics.
But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Marijuana amendment up in smoke? — Regulate Florida, backers behind a recreational-marijuana legalization effort, say their proposal will not be on Florida’s 2020 ballot — though a separate legalization drive continues. “Make It Legal Florida,” a separate measure to legalize recreational pot, continue racing to beat the Feb. 1 deadline. The Division of Elections says that the committee has around 160,000 valid signatures of the required 766,200. That’s at least enough to prompt a legal review by the Florida Supreme Court. Attorney General Ashley Moody has filed a brief in opposition to that initiative.
Early start on parental consent — Senate President Bill Galvano says the Senate Judiciary Committee plans to take up a controversial Sen. Kelli Stargel bill in a hearing the first week of the Legislative Session. The legislation would require parental consent before minors can obtain abortions. The Senate Health Policy Committee already advanced the bill in a 6-3 party-line vote. It next heads to the Judiciary Committee Jan. 15 a day after the state of Session. The House passed a version of the bill last Session but the measure died in the Senate committee.
Economic slowdown still expected — The Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research says lasting effects from hurricanes and a global economic slowdown will hamper economic growth in Florida. For now, tourism continues to buoy the economy as gas and travel prices are down while nationwide earnings are up. But domestic tourism, which makes up the lion’s share of the state’s visits, is expected to recede in a year. The number of domestic tourists in the 2018-2019 fiscal year grew 8% instead of the predicted 6.6%. However, the next fiscal year’s growth estimates from EDR have fallen to 2.5% from the 4.4% growth as they thought in July.
Education Board gives budget high marks — The Board of Education offered its blessing to DeSantis’ legislative budget request. The ambitious proposal includes $22.9 billion for the Florida Education Finance Program, an increase of over $1 billion. There’s also $900 million to “recruit and retain” teachers, with $600 million to boost the minimum salaries of all teachers to $47,500, and $300 million more for the Florida Classroom Teacher and Principal Bonus programs. Education Board Vice-Chair Marva Johnson called it a “bold and wonderful” agenda. But the budget still must go to the Legislature, where lawmakers have already filed legislation reducing those desired salaries.
Christmas, New Year’s Eve time off approved — In a last-minute holiday gift to state workers, DeSantis announced state offices will be closed on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. “I am proud to recognize our state employees for their hard work and efforts this way,” he said. But the state workers’ union sees it as a shallow gesture and doesn’t soothe wounds over state workers’ fight for a raise. The state and its workers reached an official impasse last month, with employees asking for a 5% raise across the board and a 2% cost of living allowance.
Hurricane Michael funding awarded
The U.S. Department of Education has granted $63.2 million to Florida to help fund educational programs that were impacted by the 2018 strike of Hurricane Michael.
The Category 5 storm devastated the Panhandle. It was the first Category 5 storm to hit the U.S. since Hurricane Andrew — which also made landfall in Florida — in 1992.
DeSantis announced the additional funding earlier this week.
“I’m grateful that we have been able to work with Secretary Betsy DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education to secure these additional funds that will provide much-needed relief to local students and families who deserve to return to normalcy after Hurricane Michael,” DeSantis said.
“For the many families, educators, and schools who are still recovering from this storm, I can assure you that we are working every day to make sure you and your community recovers.”
The money “includes $44.2 million under the Immediate Aid to Restart School Operations (K-12 Restart) program, $2.6 million for postsecondary education, and $6.3 million for Emergency Impact Aid,” according to a summary from the Governor’s office.
That funding will go to the Florida Department of Education and will be dispersed to help students and schools throughout the Panhandle. Counties that qualify for help include Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Jefferson and Liberty counties.
The Florida Agriculture and Mechanic Lab School and the Florida State University Lab School also qualify.
“As Panhandle communities continue to rebuild after Hurricane Michael, these additional funds help ensure students, teachers, and school leaders have further support to return to normalcy after the devastation of Hurricane Michael, helping these communities rebuild safe and healthy learning environments,” Commissioner of Education Corcoran said.
EFI highlights 2019 accomplishments
On Thursday, Enterprise Florida released a list of its achievements during DeSantis’ first year in office.
The Governor — who doubles as chairman of the private-meets-public business group’s board of directors — touted international trade, development, marketing, defense and sports accomplishments made since January.
“Florida should be proud of the economic growth we have experienced over the last year,” DeSantis said.
“I am excited to build on this momentum and continue to work with EFI to make sure Florida remains the best state in the nation to pursue a career and start or grow a business.”
“Florida has many strengths that make it a top business destination, and EFI will continue to market Florida’s talent pipeline, world-class education and pro-business environment,” said Jamal Sowell, president and CEO of EFI.
On the international market, EFI secured 28 foreign direct investment projects. Those deals created 1,184 jobs and led to over $84.6 million in capital investment, according to the organization.
In May, DeSantis led a delegation of 100 companies, that established more than 20 partnerships and planned deals, to Israel. And in November, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez led representatives from 19 companies to Colombia, 17 of which were new to the Latin American country.
EFI’s business development division added 72 projects this year, leading to more than 15,000 jobs and $2.65 billion in in-state capital investments. It also referred 40 projects to partners statewide.
EFI’s Rural Marketing and Education Grant Program, created in April, awarded $205,000 to 19 communities to market their counties. The program also provides additional educational, technical and lead generation opportunities for the counties.
In August, DeSantis announced $725,000 in awards through the Florida Defense Support Task Force program. The grants went to projects in Brevard, Clay, Duval, Hillsborough and Okaloosa counties.
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Back on the road
In October, county clerks of the court across the state held events to help Floridians with suspended driver’s licenses get back on the road.
In all, 64 court clerk offices participated in “Operation Green Light,” helping 11,624 residents who had the suspensions from overdue tickets or outstanding court fees become eligible to have their licenses reinstated. Of those 1,782 were reinstated on the spot.
“Clerks were thrilled at the turnout for Operation Green Light,” said Polk County Clerk of Court and Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers President Stacy M. Butterfield.
“The event saved citizens money by pulling old debts out of collection. More importantly, its residual effects will continue to help our state by getting people back on the road to drive to and from work and school, making it easier to contribute to their households and society.”
The court clerks got something out of the deal too — the offices that participated reported a combined $2.7 million in collections, $1.1 million of which will go into state coffers with the remainder heading to county and local governments.
SBA exec snags award
Florida State Board of Administration Chief Investment Officer Ash Williams was named “CIO of the Year” by the national investment industry group CIO.
CIO presented Williams with the award during its 10th annual Industry Innovation Awards ceremony, held at the New York Public Library last week.
Chris Ailman, CIO of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, presented the award to Williams, saying, “Google the word ‘gentleman,’ and his picture shows up.”
The 2019 honor wasn’t the first for Williams — only two years ago, CIO presented him with its Lifetime Achievement Award.
Williams snagged another award at the 2019 show. Following poll of more 100 than asset allocators at the event, he was selected as the best CIO in the “Public Defined Benefit Above $100 Billion” category.
DJJ reflects on 2019
This year, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice turned 25.
The department has some accomplishments to celebrate its milestone birthday, first and foremost being an 8% drop decline in juvenile arrests compared to last year.
But 2019 brought some other changes to DJJ. Earlier this year, the department partnered with First Lady Casey DeSantis on several initiatives, including one focused on preventing youth suicide.
Also on the list are updates to the department’s risk assessment tools and the “It’s No Joke” campaign aimed at dissuading youth from making school threats.
“The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice is recognized as a national leader in evidence-based approaches to juvenile justice,” DJJ Secretary Simone Marstiller said.
“Our achievements this year are just the beginning and illustrates our continued commitment to enhancing Florida’s juvenile justice system. Through the leadership and dedication of Gov. Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis, DJJ will continue to serve as an innovative and data-driven model for other juvenile justice systems.”
Getting FDOT off naughty list
Miami Sen. José Javier Rodríguez is looking to avoid a repeat of the woes caused by construction on Flagler — disparagingly referred to as the “Flagler nightmare.”
To make sure future construction projects in South Florida are less of a hassle, the Democratic lawmaker brokered a meeting between local and state officials and the Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Kevin Thibault to discuss a new urban reconstruction policy.
Among those taking part were Miami-Dade County Commissioner Eileen Higgins and staff from Rep. Nick Duran’s office. City of Miami Commissioners representing the area were also in the loop.
The most immediate beneficiary could be the planned improvements to Calle Ocho/S.W. 8th Street in Miami-Dade County.
“We cannot forget the Flagler construction nightmare nor afford a repeat it and a new policy FDOT developed at my request aims to prevent that. Pedestrians, small businesses, neighbors and vulnerable road users need to be a priority during road construction.” Rodriguez said.
Very Merry Mixer
State Sen. Bobby Powell Jr. is partnering with local officials and community leaders to host a “Very Merry Mixer” for the third year running.
The event is being held from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday at the Grilled Cheese Gallery in West Palm Beach, 422 Northwood Road.
Joining Powell in putting on the event are City of West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James, City of Westlake Vice Mayor Katrina Long Robinson, Chef and entrepreneur Trinnette Morris and Manifest Church and Suits for Seniors CEO Jervonte Edmonds.
“I am delighted to partner with community leaders to celebrate and bring holiday joy to the constituents of District 30 all while benefitting an admirable cause,” Powell said.
The Very Merry Mixer is free and open to the public. Hors d’oeuvres will be served and live music will be provided by Salon B.
Attendees are encouraged to bring an unwrapped toy for students between the ages of 5 to 13 or an unused gift card for students between the ages of 14 to 17. All items collected will be provided to children living with Sickle Cell and those served by Vita Nova.
“It’s always a pleasure to bring community leaders together for the greater good of serving people, especially during the holidays,” Long Robinson said.
Bracy hosts Orlando toy drive
Powell isn’t the only state Senator looking to bring some holiday cheer to Florida kids.
Sen. Randolph Bracy is hosting a toy giveaway in Orlando Saturday. The event will be held at the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Administration Office, 832 Courtland Avenue.
Helping the Ocoee Democrat put on the event are the Lambda Omega Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Valencia College, the Orange County Farm Bureau and Sunshine Health, among others.
“I am excited to spread some holiday cheer alongside my community partners to the children and families in my district as we deliver some assistance during this season of giving,” Bracy said. “A simple token of kindness can produce a merry spirit.”
Families looking to participate in the event can register on-site between 9:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. The giveaway will be held at noon.
Stronger shooting responses
State Reps. Joe Casello and Matt Willhite are sponsoring legislation to help schools and law enforcement prepare for and respond to potential mass casualty events.
The legislation (HB 997) applies to school districts that utilize local law enforcement officers on school grounds.
Those school districts would be required to develop an agreement with the relevant law enforcement agency, local fire department and local emergency medical services organization.
The agreement must ensure there is a clear line of communication between school officials and those organizations, along with dispatch centers.
Districts and those groups must also be able to “share resources relating to mental health services.” The agreement must also set up “joint recurrent training of local law enforcement officers assigned to a school.”
Casello and Willhite issued remarks Thursday announcing their decision to push for the bill.
“Having been a former first responder it’s very concerning to me that in light of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School we still seem to have issues with protocols such as school districts ability to connect with the appropriate dispatch communication center, protocols for proper communication between Law enforcement, local fire department, emergency medical services organizations, and school districts,” Casello said.
Willhite added his own concerns about the ability to coordinate a response to a potential attack.
“This legislation aims to make more efficient these lines of communication, allowing for law enforcement officers in schools to share protocols with first responders throughout the county and city where a school is located,” Willhite added.
Failures in the radio communication system used by law enforcement hindered the response to the 2018 Parkland shooting.
A grand jury tasked to investigate whether schools are complying with legal requirements approved after the 2018 Parkland shooting recently found those issues still exist.
Boeing boosts veterans
This week, Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral into the stratosphere. But that’s not the only thing the company was up to.
On Monday, the company awarded a $55,000 grant to Veterans Florida to fund career development services to current and former service members transitioning to the civilian workforce.
“Veterans Florida is grateful for Boeing’s ongoing commitment to helping veterans succeed in civilian life,” Veterans Florida Executive Director Joe Marino said. “This grant allows us to connect more veterans with career opportunities where they can excel and use the skills they acquired in the military.”
This is the second year Veterans Florida has received the grant.
“The proven leadership, commitment to purpose, camaraderie and selflessness that our veterans demonstrate are valuable assets that benefit Boeing or any employer,” said Ingrid Piedrahita, Boeing community investor. “Boeing Cecil Field knows this firsthand as 70-percent of the workforce are veterans. Veterans truly make us better.”
Getting lit for the holidays
The Florida Municipal Electric Association, which represents municipal power companies across the state, launched a social media campaign highlighting the community involvement of their members.
The “Florida Public Power: Lighting Up the Holidays” campaign will see FMEA put the spotlight on public power on Facebook and Twitter by sharing photos and graphics of the ways utilities are assisting with and participating in community holiday activities.
“Florida public power utilities’ connections to their communities run deep and the holiday season is one of those special times of the year when public power utilities really shine. They spread holiday cheer by using their bucket trucks to help string lights and hang decorations on Main Street or in the heart of downtown,” FMEA Executive Director Amy Zubaly said.
“They are helping to light the town tree. Their employees are organizing toy and food drives so others’ holidays are a little bit brighter. This campaign helps to highlight how truly invested public power utilities are in their hometowns and to the people who live there.”
The campaign will run through Dec. 31
Florida has 33 public power utilities that serve more than 3 million people and employ 5,400 Floridians. They are locally owned, locally controlled and locally operated. Public power utilities also reinvest in their communities to support essential public services provided by the local government.
FAMU fills Community Closet
The Florida A&M University College of Law put out a call for clothing donations and the Rattler community responded.
FAMU Law announced this week that staff and faculty contributed a van load of threads and the bounty had been delivered to the OCPS Academic Center of Excellence (ACE) School in Parramore.
The drive produced clothes and shoes for kids in kindergarten through eighth grade. The items will head to the ACE School’s Community Closet, where students who need clothing can get select items at no cost.
As part of the college’s Employee Appreciation event, Interim Dean Nicky Boothe Perry attached a charitable component to encourage employee participation in community engagement and giving.
Using the university’s ‘FAMU Cares’ initiative, staff and faculty members were asked to bring new clothing items to donate to the clothing drive.