Gov. DeSantis Signs Early Learning Support Bill
RON DESANTIS: Well, thank you for hosting us to West Miami Middle School. I want to thank Principal Martin. I also want to thank Superintendent Carvalho for all their hard work. Miami-Dade County is the top performing urban school district in the country. We're very proud of that.
We're also proud of that if you look at big urban districts, very few of them were actually open for in-person, certainly not for the whole school year. And I know many of these districts with a lot of kids still have no options for parents or very little options for parents.
And so we're proud of the work Florida's done. But particularly, we're proud of what they did here in Dade County, just given how big the county is, a lot of moving parts. And that was very challenging. But I want to thank the principals and the teachers and the superintendent for stepping up. And I look to be able to come back and present these $1,000 bonuses that we fought for and were able to get in the legislature. I think it's well deserved.
We got a dream team here behind us with legislators. We have senators Ileana Garcia, Ana Maria Rodriguez, and Manny Diaz. We also have representatives Grall, Aloupis, Perez. Cabrera, are you here? Where's he? Oh, hey, how are you? Alex Rizo, are you here?
ALEX RIZO: Yes, sir.
RON DESANTIS: Oh, yeah. Good to see you, man. Fabricio is not here, is he? Oh, yes. I did see you. OK, we got Bush, of course. And one Fernandez-Barquin. Are you here? Yes, OK, did I miss anybody?
RON DESANTIS: Guerrero, oh yes, of course. Good. And-- I said-- oh, I didn't say Pere-- OK, Perez. And then, of course, the lieutenant governor. And we're here to be able to sign really important pieces of legislation. As many of you know, we've made education a priority across the board, ranging from replacing Common Core to increasing minimum salaries for school teachers to getting more civics in the classroom.
One of the most important parts of education is early learning, particularly, early literacy. And this was something that I know some of these members here have been working on for a long, long time. It was a priority for our commissioner of education, Richard Corcoran, who told me we need to do more on this. And I said, look, I'm on board.
So we have two bills today that we're signing, HB 419 Early Learning and Early Grade Success. We actually took executive action last summer using some of the federal funds that came down related to the coronavirus pandemic to implement a student monitoring system to prevent Florida's youngest learners from experiencing an academic regression due to the pandemic.
This bill makes meaningful improvements to state accountability for our early learning programs. And when I took office, our kindergarten readiness rate was 42%. And we have to do better than that if we want to succeed as a state. Thousands of Florida families rely on our VPK system to prepare their children to be ready for kindergarten.
This legislation is really significant for accountability. It will turn the tide for these families. And their students will be more prepared than ever to enter kindergarten. By prioritizing VPA programs to leverage a coordinated screening and progress monitoring programs established in this bill, we'll be able to identify emergent literacy and mathematics skill deficiencies. This will allow us to provide crucial intensive, personalized interventions for students who are at risk of falling behind.
Bill establishes a timeline for phasing in a new VPK accountability system based not on one performance metric, but instead includes outcomes, learning gains, as well as observations from child-teacher interactions. We'll continue to build up the new VPK to three progress monitoring tool.
And the other bill we're doing, HB 7011, we'll extend that tool all the way through grade eight. And this bill implements a statewide screening and progress monitoring tool for up to grades eight to understand a student's academic deficiencies in real time and rapidly identify personalized interventions for students struggling in reading, math, and other subjects.
The system will also monitor the impact of interventions to provide additional support to keep students on track and growing at grade level. Providing this data in real time allow teachers to provide necessary and immediate interventions instead of waiting until it's too late. This bill also establishes the Rays program, which is a coordinated system of regional literacy support teams to go into communities and provide pivotal reading support where necessary.
The program will also recruit top high school students to volunteer with high-needs schools to help K-3 struggling readers gain those vital reading skills. And this initiative will not only benefit the students who need it most, but it will give the high schoolers the unique opportunity to impact others all while gaining volunteer hours for bright future scholarships.
So we believe, in Florida, that education is paramount. But this early learning is really, really significant. If you can make headway here, you're going to see a positive ripple effect continue through many, many years of these students being in our system.
I want to thank Representative Vance Aloupis and Representative Erin Grall for what they've done, also, Senator Gayle Harrell who we were with earlier, as well as Ana Maria Rodriguez who's with us here today for their support and partnership and sharing this great vision for reshaping how students learn and providing them with a world-class education.
This took a lot of effort and these are really significant reforms. And I think they provide us with a way to improve readiness for kindergarten, in particular, as well as progress monitoring through grade eight. So I'm excited to be here and sign. Before I do, though, we're going to hear from a couple of legislatures. So Vance Aloupis, this is your show. So why don't you come up here and say a few things?
VANCE ALOUPIS: Governor, I will never get tired of you saying early learning matters. This has been something that I've personally had the privilege of working on for more than a decade. And to have the leadership that we've seen in the Governor's Mansion talking about early literacy, talking about early learning, is something we've waited for a long time. So thank you, Governor.
I want to touch on both bills, HB 7011, a bill focused on literacy and making sure that not only our students have everything that they need, but making sure that our teachers have the data and the resources that they need.
And I want to publicly thank Speaker Sprowls, Chairman Latvala for not only saying that literacy matters-- I think we all know that literacy matters. But in a state that's made as much progress as we have in education reform, to still have 40% of our third grade public school students not reading at grade level, that is a challenge that we have to overcome.
And what this legislation does in conjunction with HB 3, which is a book delivery program-- what these pieces of legislation will do is ensure that we have the data. We have the resources we need to make sure that every child is reading at grade level by 2030. HB 419-- and I said it earlier this morning. I cannot believe that this day is actually finally here. I'm so happy that one of my closest friends and the grandfather-- or excuse me-- the godfather of pre-K is in the room today, David Lawrence, who-- I didn't say grandfather. I meant godfather. I apologize.
DAVID LAWRENCE: I'll remember that.
VANCE ALOUPIS: I will get punished for that later. But in all seriousness, the fight for pre-K came out of our community. And we should be very proud of that. And it's a program that serves 170,000 students every single year. But the dirty little secret of pre-K that we have fought for for 10 years is that there has been no accountability in it.
So I have been so honored and privileged to work alongside my closest friend in the legislature, Representative Grall, as she has fought this battle for the last three years to bring real accountability, real quality to our state's early learning program, because as the governor said, it's our responsibility to make sure that every child has that foundation that they need to thrive. And it needs to be available to every child in Florida. So Governor, I am so honored to be here today. And I just thank you for your leadership, sir.
RON DESANTIS: Great, good job. Senator Rodriguez.
ANA MARIA RODRIGUEZ: Good afternoon and thank you, Governor DeSantis, for choosing West Miami Middle School as a backdrop for the signing of this very important bill into law. Kudos to Principal Martin and her team for welcoming us all today. As a mother of two school-age boys, both of whom are here standing in the back with my husband, who struggled with reading, I know firsthand the importance of having the tools to measure literacy progress for our children so that we can intervene earlier and provide the necessary resources for them to succeed.
It's been a distinct honor to partner with Representative Vance Aloupis and Governor DeSantis in assuring that Florida leads the nation in identifying and intervening in early childhood literacy. As with everything we do as public servants, let us never forget our mission to improve the lives of all Floridians, especially those most vulnerable as our young children. God bless you and have a great afternoon.
RON DESANTIS: OK, Erin Grall.
ERIN GRALL: Thank you. Thank you, Governor. Thank you, Governor. And I want to thank the governor and the commissioner for their commitment to early learning. Representative Aloupis and I were in Vero Beach a little bit earlier. And I made some of the same thank yous. And one of the thank yous that we often forget to make at these types of events is to our families. And I would like to thank all-- the families of all of the elected officials up here for the sacrifices they make in order that they may serve.
I'd like to thank my family, too, because we are all fighting for all of Florida's children and what's best for all of Florida's children. And I believe that the policy in 419, specifically, is going to help parents make the best decisions for their children in a timely manner when we know that the early years are the most critical. And those decisions need to be made with the best information available.
It is just-- it's such an exciting day to be here and to be celebrating our earliest learners and to see a state the size of Florida make that commitment to our earliest learners. So thank you all so much. And thank you to all of my colleagues up here who have made it a priority over the last number of years. And we look forward to the implementation of this great policy. Thank you.
RON DESANTIS: You guys missed the Vero. Erin had her baby at the press conference, gave her remarks to the baby. Baby was very well behaved. And I can tell you I would not have been able to get away with that with [INAUDIBLE] That's all I can-- so we're going to sign. All right, so the first one is 7011. And today is, I believe, the fourth. All right, so that one's been [INAUDIBLE]
Who wants one? Did you get one last time? OK, Maria. OK, you. Did you already get one? OK, who else? That's that. Now we've got 419. Fourth. [INAUDIBLE] May. Who wants these? There you go. Anyone else?
- I'll take one. Thank you.
RON DESANTIS: All right, so we've got two great bills right here signed, sealed, and delivered. Great job, guys. We appreciate it. So that's a good day. But I figured since I'm down here, I might as well break a little bit more news. And so I am going to be doing an executive order to set the special election for our congressional district 20 Alcee Hasting's seat. I've spoken with Laurel Lee. I know she spoke with both the Palm Beach and Broward supervisors.
So we're going to do the primary for November 2nd, the general election for January 11th. I think that puts qualifying towards the end of the first week of September. And I know, as someone who ran for it before, there's a lot that goes into it. I know there'll be a lot of folks that want to run for it. So hopefully, that gives them enough time to be able to get on the ballot and do whatever they need to do to be competitive. So we appreciate that. And take a couple of questions. [INAUDIBLE]
- Hello, Governor.
RON DESANTIS: Hi.
RON DESANTIS: What's that?
- Can we go off-topic?
RON DESANTIS: You can go off-topic.
- So would you rather run against Charlie Crist [INAUDIBLE]
RON DESANTIS: You know, people say Charlie Crist-- and I was just asking myself what party is he going to run in this time? I mean, he's on a Republican I know lost before, independent Democrat. But then I look at his voting record in the congress. He has voted this congress with Nancy Pelosi 100% of the time. So he probably could give it a run and be credible with the Green party, even so. Who knows?
Look, all we're going to do is continue to lead, do a good job for the state. I'm excited at the legislation we're going to-- we've been able to do. We're going to be able to sign a lot of great bills. If you look at our fiscal situation, they re-- as you guys know, they always redo the estimates for the revenue. So they most-- and they kept doing it higher and higher throughout the last year. And I was one of the few that had confidence Florida was going to do well.
And we ended up-- actually, people said my budget was rosy. I undershot what we've actually done. But they redid the estimates the second week of April for the remaining three months of the fiscal year, April, May, and June. And as of right now, our collections in April were $750 million above the revised estimate from just less than a month ago. And so that's going to be another billion, billion and a half, maybe even $2 billion, that none of us were even accounting for when we just did this budget, that's going to end up by July 1st.
So we could very well have $10 billion in reserves, which the state's never had. And that's not counting the excess federal money that-- obviously, the legislature didn't spend all of the stimulus money. That's not even counting that. Our budget stabilization fund, rainy day fund, we never touched a penny of it during COVID. We've doubled it.
So if you look at a state that's doing what we need to do with water resources, Everglades, education, infrastructure, we're really, I think, going in a good direction and yet contrast that with many of these other states that made much different decisions over many years, but particularly over the past year. There's a reason why people want to be in Florida and why people don't want to be in some of these other places.
- [INAUDIBLE] on this topic.
- [INAUDIBLE] Yeah, what's you answer?
RON DESANTIS: I mean, I honestly-- the more the merrier. You know, it's fine.
- Speaking of that, Charlie Crist and [INAUDIBLE] have been praising Biden, pushing the Biden agenda. Today, during his announcement, he referred to you as Rick Scott. What does that say? Is it too much on his mind or is he having one of those senior moments?
RON DESANTIS: Wow. When you run for office that many times over three decades, I'd probably get confused with who I'm running against, too. But look, any time there's an open office somewhere, you can bet someone like a Crist is probably going to be slithering around for it. So that's fine.
But we're just going to keep doing what we're doing. And they've basically been criticizing me nonstop for a year. You go back and look what they would have done. We would not be sitting in this school if they had their way because they would not have opened the schools. Let's just be honest with that. That would have left hundreds of thousands of kids in the lurch. And leadership matters and these elections matter.
- Governor, you just mentioned a topic I want to touch on. You said-- and the superintendent [INAUDIBLE] agrees that schools have not been COVID spreader environments. A lot of that, according to the experts, is because of behaviors in school-- kids wearing masks, kids spread out, kids washing hands. The Secretary of Education said he wants to see all the kids in school next year without wearing masks. Do you agree?
RON DESANTIS: So if you look what he said-- so remember, obviously, in Dade Broward Palm Beach, they're going to approach it a certain way. It's reflective of the populace. There's other parts of Florida that approached it much differently from a school district perspective. And then you have the charter schools and the private schools. And what the commissioner pointed out is true. There's no statistical difference in outcomes based on some of this.
So I don't begrudge anyone for trying to take steps to say, we think this is the safe or not safe. And I appreciate it. And there's a lot of parents who were concerned. When we went to put the kids in school, we gave the parents the option. You can do virtual if you want. And the reason why we did that was because there were a lot of parents that were really freaked out because they're reading these headlines.
Now, we had very-- 100% confidence the data was very clear that these were not going to be significant COVID areas. And then the kids themselves were neither particularly vulnerable to COVID nor significant spreaders of it. So we had confidence. But nevertheless, you had that. So when some of the school districts opted to do some of the distancing in masks, I think that they wanted parents to feel good. And so that's fine. I don't begrudge anyone for making decisions.
But I just-- the data is very clear now. We have school districts. We have individual schools that have basically just had kids in school, and you haven't seen outbreaks even there. And so I think that councils in favor of letting parents make the decision about how they want to send their kids to school.
I personally do not believe that the juice is worth the squeeze in terms of putting the masks on the kids at this juncture giving the data. So we believe-- I think what Richard said was right. That's what I support. And as the school year comes, we think that that makes the most sense. There are other countries that have had kids in school the whole time, too, that have done much different mitigation or even very little mitigation.
And I also think that we have an opportunity here with the vaccines being so clinically available. All adults in Florida and throughout the country have access to this. I mean, that's really-- elderly and people with comorbidities, adults-- that's really where COVID has wreaked the most havoc. We've gotten a huge, huge percentage of our elderly. Of course, we put seniors first. We were criticized for that if you recall. But it's worked. We have far fewer hospitalizations among senior citizens.
Every single teacher, anyone who works has access. And we would tell people that that's the right thing to do. Go get it. But if you get it, you are protected. And so what I'm-- the message I have is different than what some of the folks in DC are saying. Some of the DC people say get vaccinated, but you've still got to wear six masks. You can never come within 10 feet. Well, then the message that sends to people is that the vaccine doesn't work. I think the data is great on the vaccine. I think it works. I think if you get it, you're protected. And I think you should act protected.
And our problem in this country right now is going to be too little demand. Four or five months ago, it was the supply. And we knew that the supply would catch up to demand. And now we're at the point where the supply exceeds the demand. So we've all got to be given a consistent message that, you know what? It is worth taking because it is working. And the people that have done it have been protected. And we want to continue with that. One more.
- Governor, on that note, I want to ask you about [INAUDIBLE] taking the vaccine. In some cases, you're going to have to [INAUDIBLE] Do you believe that's an appropriate stance for a school to have? [INAUDIBLE]
RON DESANTIS: So our-- we banned vaccine passports. The bill I signed yesterday, I think that that was very important because you don't want a society in which just to do basic things, restaurant, movie, go on an airplane, that you have to be producing proof of this. A lot of times, you'd have to be giving it to private companies who will data mine. So there's a whole host of things that it ends up going out. The bill did not discuss and did not get into employment mandates on-- in either direction. And my view would be it wouldn't be appropriate to mandate or prohibit either in either direction.
But we also understood that there's a lot of background law that goes into that. This stuff has been litigated in other contexts. Obviously, you have a situation where this is an emergency use authorization. It's not been fully approved by the FDA. But I think to mandate it or prohibit it either way would not be something we'd do. But the vaccine passport, just to be clear, it did not delve into the employment context. It basically delved into the context of you living in society, going to do things, basically, like public accommodations. And we wanted to make sure that Florida didn't go down the road. A lot of states are following us.
And you know what's interesting? Some people say, oh, well, the cruise ships need it. These cruise ships are sailing in other parts of the world where they don't even have vaccines available. And they're doing it safely and people are having a good time on it. So they can do it, and I think we'll be in really, really good shape with that. Well, we're going to be back soon because we've got so many other things to be able to celebrate. And I know a lot of them that impact Miami-Dade County. So we'll see you guys soon.