Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a $64 million spending plan Thursday aimed at improving the reading skills of Florida's poorest performing elementary school students, an achievement gap he believes was exacerbated by the statewide school shutdown from the coronavirus outbreak.
DeSantis also announced a $223 million spending plan that includes using federal money to expand vocational programs at the state's community colleges, reimburse childcare centers that remained open during the shutdown and assist closed childcare centers with reopening.
The announcements came as the state's percentage of positive COVID-19 tests continued an upward trend that began Memorial Day, shortly after Florida began reopening.
Standing unmasked and shoulder to shoulder with nine other unmasked officials, DeSantis told a crowd at a Melbourne community center that the reading program will include monthlong summer programs for kindergarten to fifth grade students who have been identified as being poor readers. Money also wil be provided to districts to buy supplemental teaching materials for kindergarten to third grade classes and to train 2,000 reading coaches statewide.
The goal is to have 90% of students be proficient readers by 2024, DeSantis said. The state plans to reopen schools this fall with each county school board setting its own schedule and plan for protecting their employees.
“Getting back on our feet in the school year is going to be really, really important for the well-being of our kids, but I also think it is important for a lot of parents who have had to juggle an awful lot,” DeSantis said. He said the state will work with districts to make sure they have sufficient sanitation supplies and personal protective equipment for their teachers and employees.
Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said he believes school reopening can be done safely, saying children and teenagers are “at extremely low-risk” to get sick from the virus or spread it.
“We want schools fully open in the fall because there is no better way to teach our kids," he said.