Brandon Democratic Rep. Andrew Learned is rejoicing in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recent signing of legislation that seeks to help military families across the state navigate schooling.
“This is a big bipartisan win,” Learned told Florida Politics. “I’m super proud to get one all the way through the Process in my first year — that’s not something that most freshmen Democrats get done.”
The bipartisan bill (HB 429), sponsored by Learned and Fort Walton Beach Republican Rep. Patt Maney, establishes the Purple Star Program, which helps schools respond to educational and social-emotional challenges military-connected children face during transitions to a new school.
DeSantis signed the bill, along with a slew of veteran-related bills, into law Friday,
— Rep. Andrew Learned (@AndrewLearned) June 7, 2021
Currently, military families who are transitioning to a new base in Florida have no way to identify schools with additional support programs for their students. This program aims to change that.
“I’m a veteran. I’ve got twin third-graders. I ran on veterans’ issues and education,” Learned said about his decision to file the bill.
He said he found the program on sites for military families.
“I literally read it, circled it, and I was like, I’m gonna do this. I’m gonna bring this to Florida,” he said.
The bill requires the Department of Education to establish a Purple Star Campus Program, which identifies schools that support children in military families, including public schools, charter schools, and schools participating in the Florida educational choice scholarship program.
Under the program, schools will be recognized as Purple Star Campuses if they meet certain requirements, including having a designated staff member as a military liaison, a webpage on the school’s website that includes resources for military students and families and a student-led transition program to assist military students.
“It’s going to help them identify which school is going to meet their needs the best,” he said. “It just makes that process easier and they can do it confidently, instead of what they do now, which is they have to go online and they have to basically make a blind decision.”
Schools are also required to offer professional development training opportunities for staff members on issues related to military students, as well as reserve at least 5% of open enrollment seats for military-connected students in order to qualify.
The DOE is authorized to establish additional criteria to identify schools that demonstrate a commitment to or provide critical transition support for military-connected families. The bill authorizes a school to partner within a school district to procure digital, professional development, or other assistance necessary to implement criteria under the program.
Learned said he is excited to see the implementation of the new legislation start over summer, and from there, plans to see if any aspects need tweaking to help the program.
This legislation makes Florida the 10th state to develop and implement a Purple Star School Program.