‘Not focusing enough on my family’: Vance Aloupis announces departure from Legislature

Aloupis, Vance
Aloupis ran for office in 2018 to be a legislative champion for early education. He became just that before stepping away.

Citing a desire to spend more time with his family, particularly his three young daughters, Miami Rep. Vance Aloupis will not seek a third term in the Florida House.

In a lengthy statement confirming the decision Tuesday, Aloupis said he has “perpetually struggled” with having to spend time away from home. Recent talks with his children, he said — including one in which his 10-year-old pleaded with him, “Dad…please don’t run again” — convinced him it was time to walk away from the Legislature.

“The honesty and pain of those words pierced my heart. In that moment I asked myself: What was I doing? When your daughter asks you something so straightforwardly, how can you not listen?” he said. “For four years in the Legislature (and more than a decade as a child advocate), I’ve focused on supporting our state’s youngest children and their families — and I’ve done so, at times, by not focusing enough on my own family.”

A lawyer by training, Aloupis is the CEO of The Children’s Movement of Florida, a Miami-headquartered nonprofit dedicated to advocating for improved early learning opportunities.

He became more acquainted with state lawmaking after traveling repeatedly to Tallahassee over several years to persuade legislators to take greater interest in early learning programs and initiatives.

He was unsatisfied with the responses he got, he told Florida Politics, so he ran for office. In November 2018, he captured the seat representing House District 115 by just 579 votes to succeed fellow Republican Rep. Michael Bileca. Two years later, he improved his victory margin substantially, winning re-election by 15 percentage points.

And while he took on several other issues during his House tenure, none overtook his original priority. House Speaker Chris Sprowls named Aloupis the chair of the Early Learning and Elementary Education Subcommittee. Aloupis also served on the Education and Employment Committee, PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee and the Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee, among others.

Last year, he successfully sponsored legislation (HB 419) with Rep. Erin Grall and Sen. Gayle Harrell that created the Division of Early Learning and established systems by which voluntary prekindergarten programs can identify literacy and math skill deficiencies.

Another bill he and Harrell carried (HB 7011), which Gov. Ron DeSantis also signed into law, extended that program through eighth grade and established the Reading Achievement Initiative for Scholastic Excellence (RAISE) program to boost student literacy.

This year, the Legislature raised the base per-student allocation for voluntary prekindergarten by $317, the highest level in the program’s history. The state budget also earmarked $156 million more for educational child care.

“I truly believed that, if elected, I could play a unique role and draw attention to an issue — early childhood education — that our Legislature had ignored for far too long. After 1,240 days in the Legislature, I’d like to believe that that is what I’ve done,” he said. “(Beyond) all of the policy wins, I’ve watched as so many of you have allowed the seeds of interest in this issue to be placed in your hearts and grow into sincere passion.”

The most recent legislative session proved to be a fruitful one with Aloupis securing 21 appropriations totaling almost $19 million. Three of his policy bills were passed by both chambers and sent to the Governor.

Other legislation, including measures that would have required social media literacy programs in public schools and created a two-mile buffer zone protecting the Everglades from developmental damage, died without a single hearing.

For his part, Aloupis quietly stood against several controversial pieces of Republican legislation this last Session that he undoubtedly knew would pass with or without his vote. Among them: HB 1557, a measure critics labeled the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, limiting teacher-led classroom discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation; and SB 1808, which would bar Florida from doing business with transportation companies that participate in programs moving people who have immigrated to America illegally into Florida.

In his statement, Aloupis focused solely on his positive takeaways from Tallahassee. There may sometimes be contentious exchanges in committees and heated arguments on each chamber’s floor, he said, but those instances are far outweighed by the kind, collegial atmosphere behind the scenes.

“If the Florida Channel had a live feed into our dining room, I believe that our constituents would find such comfort in knowing how much we truly get along,” he said. “And while that live feed is unlikely to happen, the next best thing we can do is speak to one another outside the building or on social media in the same way we’d speak to each other when we’re sharing a meal — when no one’s watching.

“If you don’t like the divisive nature of politics, there is no need to play a part in it. We can have rigorous debates on policy — and sometimes disagree — without tearing one another down. Begin by believing in each other. Be open to their opinions. And, stay idealistic.”

Prior to what he has now confirmed to be his last Session, Aloupis had about $207,000 to defend his seat representing HD 115.

No one else has filed yet to run in the district, according to Florida Division of Elections records.

Aloupis thanked Sprowls for “the opportunity with which you provided me,” Speaker-designate Paul Renner for “all the conversations we had about creating opportunities for all Floridians” and Rep. Daniel Perez — a future Speaker — whom he called his “brother.”

He also thanked his wife and daughters, constituents, HD 115 office team and all his Legislature colleagues “(from) A to Z — (Ramon) Alexander to (Ardian) Zika.”

“If I thought you had enough time to read it, I would write about each and every one of you — and what you’ve meant to me. I admire and appreciate you more than you’ll ever know,” he said.

“I’m a better person because of you. My fight for our youngest learners will once again be from outside the Chamber, but I find comfort in knowing that so many of you will keep fighting for those same children for the inside, as well.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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