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Opinion
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Guest Column
As Florida’s teacher of the year, I see the value of the Florida Prepaid Plan | Column
I did not have a Prepaid Plan, but I sure wish I did. And I want the same for all of my current, future and former students.
Pinellas teacher of the year, Sarah Painter, who teaches fifth grade at Eisenhower Elementary School, celebrates with her students moments after finding out she is one of five finalists for Florida Teacher of the Year on Thursday, May 6, 2021, at the school in Clearwater.
Pinellas teacher of the year, Sarah Painter, who teaches fifth grade at Eisenhower Elementary School, celebrates with her students moments after finding out she is one of five finalists for Florida Teacher of the Year on Thursday, May 6, 2021, at the school in Clearwater. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Dec. 2, 2021

One of the greatest things about being rooted in the community where I have taught elementary schoolers for so many years, is the chance reunions I have with former students. This happened just the other day when I was at lunch with my husband in Largo and saw a former student named Sam who is now attending St. Petersburg College. What a joy to see him thriving and pursuing his degree!

Sarah Ann Painter, a fifth-grade teacher at Eisenhower Elementary in Clearwater, accepts the Florida Teacher of the Year award Thursday, July 22, 2021, at the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel in Orlando. The award is given out each year by the Florida Department of Education.
Sarah Ann Painter, a fifth-grade teacher at Eisenhower Elementary in Clearwater, accepts the Florida Teacher of the Year award Thursday, July 22, 2021, at the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel in Orlando. The award is given out each year by the Florida Department of Education. [ The Florida Channel ]

As a fifth-grade teacher, I get students at such a pivotal time in their education. But even when I see talent and drive and so much potential, the truth is I often don’t know much about where my students’ academic paths take them. Do they go to college? Vocational school? Do they become self-made entrepreneurs? Do they want to go to college but struggle financially to make it happen? That last question is perhaps the toughest one to ponder.

Fifth grade seems a long way off from college, but the reality is, saving early — even from birth — is the most affordable and low-stress route. My husband had a Florida Prepaid Plan through college and he had such relief in graduating debt-free. I did not have a Prepaid Plan, but I sure wish I did. And I want the same for all of my current, future and former students!

Florida families are especially fortunate to have the option of Florida Prepaid Plans. These plans are available exclusively to Florida residents and are part of the longest-running and largest prepaid program in the nation. At a time when fewer states have prepaid plans covering tuition, Florida’s program is robust and thriving as it enters its 32nd year. Plans start around $45 a month — about the cost of a dollhouse or a few action hero figurines.

If you are a parent, whether your child is still crawling or already old enough to master multiplication, I encourage you to explore the opportunities to save early toward their college expenses. When a child knows their college fund is growing, it grows their own expectations for themselves. One of the things I tell my students over and over is to reach high and aim far beyond what they can even imagine is possible. This is when great things happen. It is when joy comes.

So many of the toys on kids’ lists for Christmas will eventually break. But the gift of college is forever. And it’s a gift that multiple family members can be a part of, through gift contributions to a child’s plan. So add this to your holiday shopping to-do list: Research college savings at myfloridaprepaid.com.

Sarah Ann Painter, a fifth-grade teacher at Eisenhower Elementary in Clearwater, is Florida’s 2022 Teacher of the Year.

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