Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a pair of education bills into law Tuesday that proponents hope will improve student literacy and early learning programs that prepare children for kindergarten.
The Republican governor visited a children's center in Vero Beach for a bill-signing ceremony, and held a news conference at West Miami Middle School to discuss the bills.
One bill signed into law would establish the Division of Early Learning within the state's Department of Education as part of what the governor said would produce “meaningful improvements to state accountability for early learning programs.”
The success rate of so-called “voluntary pre-kindergarten” programs had been under scrutiny because of data that shows many children are ill-prepared for kindergarten.
“We believe in Florida that education is paramount, but this early learning is really, really significant," DeSantis said. "If you can make headway here, you’re gonna see a positive ripple effect continue throughout many, many years in our system."
In fact, nearly 2,200 VPK providers — about a third of all such providers — were on probation because they did not meet minimum readiness rates, a state analysis showed. Overall, only about half the children they served were ready for kindergarten, according to testing data that took stock of their skills in such areas as math, literacy and critical thinking.
“We need to do better than that,” the governor said. “Thousands of Florida families rely on our voluntary pre-K system to prepare their children to be ready for kindergarten. This legislation for accountability will turn the tide for these families and their students, and they will make them more prepared than ever to enter kindergarten.”
The new law, which was passed with bipartisan support in both legislative chambers, would raise the bar on training for prekindergarten teachers.
To assess development earlier, the law would allow state officials to test children while attending pre-kindergarten programs, many of them run privately.
Rep. Erin Grall, a Republican, had been pushing for the legislation for the past three sessions. “This policy is all about empowering parents and families,” she said.
Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho attended the signing ceremony.
“We all know that to address achievement gaps it’s better to do it upfront when they’re younger, to deliver the readiness for elementary education,” Carvalho said. “So these bills are terrific policy positions.”
A separate bill signed into the law by the governor Tuesday seeks to reverse a recent slide in student literacy after years of improvement.
The new law would require stricter training standards for teachers in the area of reading and would establish a standardized and statewide monitoring system to assess student progress.
The goal, the governor said, is to have a 90% rate by the end of decade of third graders reading at their grade level.
DeSantis also addressed whether kids should wear masks in school next year.
“I think that counsels in favor of letting parents make the decision about how they want to send their kids to school, I personally do not believe the juice is worth the squeeze in terms of putting the masks on the kids at this juncture, given the data,” said the governor.
Carvalho said the district will continue to rely on the advice of its expert task force made up of doctors and health care professionals when it decides what protocols will be in place next school year.
“And the reason why they are safe places is because there are strict protocols in place,” replied Carvalho. “We have been a district that’s guided by science and we’re not going to abdicate that position now.”