At a Palm Harbor high school Wednesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took a victory lap, celebrating schools being open and his virus management strategy more generally.
DeSantis was at Palm Harbor University High School announcing a $216 million request for $1,000 bonuses for preK-12 teachers and principals, money programmed from coronavirus relief funds the Governor urged the Legislature to appropriate “so we can get those checks out as soon as possible.”
For DeSantis, this continues a trend of proposing using relief funds for preferred projects. He has already advocated civics education and vocational tech expansions from the same pool of federal funds. The money would come from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.
“We have people who moved from these other states just because we have schools open,” DeSantis said, selling the “exciting proposal” and predicting “the Legislature will look favorably on this.”
Ahead of the announcement, DeSantis described a public school population that was bursting to get back in the classroom this year.
He said “almost every superintendent wanted to get back,” and that “a lot of teachers were passionate about that” also.
This presented a contrast to other parts of the country, DeSantis added, where schools are not open, leaving “a lot of folks in the American public frustrated and disappointed.”
“We had people every step of the way that wanted to put the kids first,” DeSantis said.
Schools are just one of DeSantis’ “inflection points” over the last year, big decisions that DeSantis again recounted in a press conference preamble. He described moves to “protect nursing home residents” and a belief in “lifting people up, getting people back to work.”
The state sits at 4.7% unemployment, but DeSantis groused that the feds have kept that artificially high.
“I had some of my biggest industries locked down by the CDC,” DeSantis said, referring specifically to the cruise sector, which still sits, at least domestically, in dry dock.
Ultimately, DeSantis warns of “long term impact” for states that kept schools shuttered, “negative effects” that could “drag on for months and years.”
But not in Florida.
Teachers spoke after DeSantis, describing their own struggles and triumphs in the pandemic year, an indication of resilience, and hope for the path ahead.
And Commissioner Richard Corcoran summed it up, citing “silver linings” in what could have been a “chaotic, awful year” with “leadership at the top that says we’re putting students first.”
“Now to announce another $1,000 bonus for our teachers, it’s just a remarkable year,” Corcoran said.