LARGO — Gov. Ron DeSantis Monday made a stop at Ridgecrest Elementary School to tout lawmakers’ commitment of $10 million to recruit, train and retain computer science teachers.
The funding is believed to be the nation’s largest one-time investment in computer science education.
Flanked by Florida education commissioner Richard Corcoran and a handful of legislators in the school’s library, DeSantis called the bill a commitment to making the state No. 1 in technology education and jobs.
“The governor saw the need and came with a bold proposal,” Corcoran said of the funding, which is part of a large workforce education bill that DeSantis said he will sign “soon.” It will go toward training and bonuses for teachers of computer science.
Meanwhile, the Legislature this session cut funding for digital classrooms by $50 million — a decrease of about 71 percent. The money was moved into the base student allocation fund, meaning school districts have discretion over spending.
In Pasco County, for example, that means a loss of more than $1.1 million in technology funding, according to an email sent to district officials June 12.
“These funding reductions have forced the District to scale back its purchase of technology for the 2019/2020 school year,” wrote assistant superintendent Kevin Shibley, adding that “no new student machines are being purchased.”
On Monday, DeSantis told reporters the money was “not really” lost from digital classrooms, because district leadership could still opt to use discretionary funds to buy computers and other technology.
“School districts … can make that decision,” he said. “Anyone who needs that, that money is still available for them.”
That’s the same stance the governor took in February, when Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto, questioned why he had proposed reducing funding for digital classrooms.
Also this session, legislators made it so students can take a computer science course in lieu of a math or science class, with exceptions for algebra and biology.
“We created a demand,” Corcoran said.
Over the next eight years, he added, Florida will generate more than 150,000 jobs in computer science. And schools must prepare students to fill them.
“What this (bill) does, it gives a tremendous additional weapon in the arsenal of our students, to go out there and succeed and dominate and conquer life,” the commissioner said. “That wouldn't have happened without the cooperation and the leadership in the House and the Senate.”
Rep. Amber Mariano, R-Hudson, said governors in the past have talked about doing more to ensure Florida students are workforce-ready. She sponsored the bill in the House.
“This governor actually made it a priority and got us over the finish line,” she said. “This bill is bringing us to 21st-century education.”
Sheela VanHoose, the director of state government affairs for Code.org, praised lawmakers for making computer science a priority. Her group tracks policy and implementation related to technology education nationwide, and what Florida is doing is “historical," she said.
“When a state steps up to lead, the nation watches,” she said. And the nation is watching Florida today.”
Staff writer Jeffrey S. Solochek contributed to this report. Contact Megan Reeves at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @mareevs.