Education looms large in Gov. DeSantis’ plans

His conservative view focuses on choice, charters and the constitution, as well as the economy and job creation.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, center, addresses a joint session of the Florida Legislature, Tuesday, January 14, 2020 during his State of the State address in Tallahassee.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, center, addresses a joint session of the Florida Legislature, Tuesday, January 14, 2020 during his State of the State address in Tallahassee. [ SCOTT KEELER | TAMPA BAY TIMES ]
Published Jan. 15, 2020

In his second State of the State address, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis outlined a bold conservative vision and called for lawmakers to seek new political frontiers.

Much of his commentary homed in on education.

Over the course of 30 minutes, DeSantis spoke of the need to have the education system better prepare young Floridians for the world of work, as a way to keep the business economy strong. He reiterated his devotion to school choice, touting the strength he sees in charter schools and vouchers. And he invoked the Constitution and civics, suggesting school children need to learn more of it in order to be well versed citizens.

Perhaps you didn’t have time to listen to the governor’s speech midday Tuesday. So today we’re pulling out the education sections (as prepared and sent to media outlets) so you can read for yourself where DeSantis says Florida’s education system needs to go.

From the governor’s 2020 State of the State address:

Over the past year, my administration has been focused on education – and for good reason.

Low taxes and a healthy business climate are important in attracting investment in Florida, but so too is our ability to produce top-flight talent – through our colleges and universities, through workforce education opportunities and through strong K-12 schools.

Florida has the top ranked public university system in the nation and has three universities in the top 50: UF in the top 10 heading for the top 5; FSU in the top 20 heading for the top 15, and USF in the top 50 heading for the top 25.

There is no question that Florida is cultivating the talent needed to power our economy to new horizons. Let’s keep it going and do even better.

Traditional four-year universities aren’t the only way to acquire advanced knowledge or skills – and for many it is not the best way.

Thanks to the leadership of our Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran we have launched an initiative to make Florida the nation’s leader in workforce education by 2030 and, thanks to your support, we are off to a good start.

Vocational education is making a comeback in our high schools and students in districts such as Miami-Dade can graduate with industry certifications in fields like electrical and HVAC.

Apprenticeship programs also offer a great way to equip Floridians with skills that merit gainful employment.

It was either Benjamin Franklin or an ancient Confucian philosopher who once said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

Once Floridians acquire skills it is important that they be allowed to employ those skills without unnecessary barriers placed in their way by government. Florida’s occupational licensing regime too often hinders upward mobility – often for lower income workers -- because so much of the regime is based not on the legitimate goal of protecting public health and safety but on keeping people out, creating a guild that benefits insiders at the expense of those seeking to enter moderate income professions ranging from barbers to interior design.

Our citizens shouldn’t need a permission slip from the government in order to earn a living.

We have a good reform bill pending before the Legislature that made it to the 1 yard line last year. Let’s punch it in the end zone this year.

Lower-income workers also shouldn’t have their wages depressed by cheap foreign labor. Assuring a legal workforce through E-verify will be good for the rule of law, protect taxpayers, and place an upward pressure on the wages of Floridians who work in blue collar jobs.

We are a state that has an economy, not the other way around. And we need to make sure that our Florida citizens from all walks of life come first.


Our approach to K-12 education rests on (1) recruiting and retaining great teachers, (2) promoting educational choice so parents, particularly low-income parents, can place their child in a good school, and (3) measuring results through accountability.

I am recommending we take a bold step of setting a minimum salary for public school teachers at $47,500, bringing Florida from the bottom half of states to number 2 in the nation. This will make it easier to get talented college graduates to enter the profession and will help us retain many of the good teachers we have now.

My plan will lead to a substantial pay increase for over 100,000 current teachers throughout the state. We have two of those teachers here in the chamber:

--Lindsay Beam, a 6th grade math teacher at Blountstown Middle School and Melissa Pappas, a teacher at Brookshire elementary in Orange County who works with autistic students. Both are highly effective, award-winning teachers who will see salary increases of between $5k and $10k.

We are also proposing to replace the Best and Brightest bonus program with a new initiative that will be more equitable – and more generous – so that we can reward our strong-performing teachers and principals.

My proposal places an emphasis on bonuses for teachers and principals in Title I schools, with bonuses available of up to $7,500 and $10,000, respectively.

These initiatives will build on the success we enjoyed in 2019. Last year, we faced the prospect of thousands of Florida families toiling on waiting lists for various scholarship programs.

Standing here last year, I asked the Legislature to act and you delivered.

Joining us today are Brittney and Jeremy Wilson, whose son with unique abilities, Josiah, was on the waitlist for a Gardiner scholarship. Thanks to our work in 2019, last year’s waitlist was cleared and the Wilsons were able to get Josiah on a scholarship so that his educational needs can be met.

Last year, we had nearly 13,000 low-income families on the waiting list for a tax credit scholarship. Thanks to the enactment of the new Family Empowerment scholarship, these families have been liberated from the waiting list.

We have in the chamber Talethia Edwards, a mother of 7 who lives here in Tallahassee. Three of her children are now using the new family empowerment scholarship.

All Florida parents, regardless of income or zip code, should have the ability to choose the best school for their children.

This isn’t limited to scholarship programs but also includes public school choice. Florida has 658 public charter schools serving 314,000 students, nearly 70% are Hispanic and African-American and 53% are low-income.

Based on the 2019 NAEP results, if Florida’s charter school population was its own state, it would rank:

--#2 in the nation for 4th grade reading

--Tie for #2 in the nation for 4th grade math

--#1 in 8th grade reading and

--Tie for #5 in 8th grade math

When we increase educational choice and provide innovative learning opportunities, we can help students reach their full potential.

Results matter and accountability is needed. But the common core framework was clearly flawed.

When even parents with advanced degrees can’t understand their kids’ math homework, we have a problem.

Commissioner Corcoran has spent the past year working with stakeholders throughout Florida to develop a superior approach that will focus on strong standards, high-quality curriculum, streamlined testing and a renewed emphasis on American civics. We will be unveiling the new approach in the coming days.

I can reveal that one key to our replacement of Common Core will be a renewed emphasis on American civics and the US Constitution.

This means understanding the source of our rights, the theory of the Declaration of Independence, the structure of the Constitution and key amendments such as the Bill of Rights, the post-Civil War amendments and the Nineteenth Amendment.

This also means developing an appreciation for how these enduring principles animated key points in American history:

such as the fight for independence more than 240 years ago;

the leadership of President Lincoln during the civil war;

the activism of the suffragettes who succeeded in securing voting rights for women (an anniversary we celebrate this year);

the defeat of Nazi totalitarianism during WWII;

the crusade led by Dr. King for civil rights for African-Americans; and

the titanic ideological struggle against, and eventually defeat of, the tyranny represented by Soviet communism.

In his final state of the union address, President Washington said that “A primary object should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing than communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?”