TAMPA — Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Wednesday that he is challenging Florida to go from No. 24 to No. 1 in the nation for its workforce and technical training programs by 2030, and issued an executive order he said would be the first step to achieving that goal.
“We have too many folks who are not prepared for either college or workforce success. ... We have a lot of demand in the economy for jobs in education, health services, trade, transportation,” DeSantis said during an appearance at Tampa Bay Technical High School. "We want to be nimble. We want to be responsive to how the economy changes.”
Those national rankings are calculated by the number of people aged 24 to 64 with an associate degree or higher or with a workforce certificate, according to the governor.
The executive order asks state education commissioner Richard Corcoran to audit Florida’s current offerings of career and technical training and to provide the governor with annual recommendations to make sure they are “in line with market demand.” DeSantis said he’s asked Corcoran, who was present at the announcement, to request $10 million from the Legislature for workforce apprenticeships, plus $26 million for vocational programs to be housed in the state colleges.
Career and technical education programs are skills-based classes offered in middle schools, high schools and colleges in subjects such as manufacturing, cosmetology, information technology or agriculture that can lead to students earning industry certifications for jobs that don’t typically require college degrees.
Although the Feb. 3 deadline is looming, DeSantis has not yet released a full copy of his budget, which the governor submits as a recommendation to the Legislature. Instead, he has made announcements over the past two days that have highlighted some of his major budget priorities, such as Wednesday’s event and one on Tuesday about his agenda to clean up water pollution. He told reporters Wednesday’s that he would be making a separate announcement next week on teacher pay, which suggests he may seek to extend Sunday’s deadline.
DeSantis also said he wants to pursue “reverse transfer” legislation that would allow students who start but don’t finish a bachelor’s degree at a university to be able to earn an associate degree if they have at least 60 credit hours. That would also apply to students who transfer from a state college to a university and drop out before finishing.
He also said he’s pushing for a new program called the “last mile college completion,” which would offer tuition waivers for online and state college courses to former students who are within 10 percent of their credit hours to completing their degree.
“Sometimes people go, they get close to a degree, different things happen in life," DeSantis said, adding the program would "provide them an easy path to just get over that last hump, earn that degree, that could potentially expand their horizons.”
In addition, the governor said he’s requesting $10 million to train teachers in computer science, which is currently required by the state to be offered in schools. DeSantis said computer science should count as a science credit toward high school graduation.
Regarding more hot-button topics like teacher salaries, DeSantis hinted that his previously stated plan to steer 80 percent of all state education funding to “the classroom” would include teacher pay. He also said he is going to push for student loan forgiveness for teachers in “under-served areas,” and wants to see improvements to the Best and Brightest teacher bonus program.
DeSantis' visit followed a workshop by the Hillsborough County School Board, where the topic was this year's legislative agenda.
Near the top of Hillsborough’s wish list is an increase of at least 3 percent in the “base student allocation,” which is the unrestricted money to school districts.
“That’s where your salary negotiation money comes from,” said superintendent Jeff Eakins, whose teachers have the lowest starting salary in the Tampa Bay area at $38,000 a year.
With more than 300 advertised teaching vacancies, Hillsborough this year has some high-ranking administrators teaching part-time in schools with the greatest labor shortages.
Eakins said he was encouraged by DeSantis' brief comments that he’s looking to have “more money in the base student allocation” as he works on a funding plan with Corcoran. He also said he welcomed DeSantis’ remarks about shoring up career and technical programs, after evaluating the existing programs to see if they are current and effective.
“You have to clean up some things in that system, in that pipeline, that might not be relevant to the workforce any more," he said. “And then you can spend your money more wisely.”