Tallahassee, Fla. – Today, Governor Ron DeSantis highlighted the efforts his administration has taken on behalf of Floridians over the past year.
Governor Ron DeSantis said, “This has been a year of challenges, but it has also been a year of historic feats, innovation and resiliency. With record investments in education and the environment, continued funding for mental health and substance abuse initiatives, a seamless and successful election season, increased support for Florida’s military and veterans and more, 2020 was yet another successful year for our state.
“As we look toward 2021, I believe Floridians have reason to be optimistic. The vaccine has arrived in Florida and we have started vaccinating frontline health care workers, and we were the first state in the nation to begin vaccinating residents of long-term care facilities. As more vaccine supply becomes available, we will continue to prioritize Floridians most vulnerable to the virus to reduce the impacts of social isolation and support our state’s ongoing economic recovery.
“The First Lady and I would like to thank all Floridians for their hard work and perseverance during a year unlike any of us have ever experienced before. Rest assured, there is a light at the end of this tunnel.”
Putting Students, Families and Teachers First
- Historic Investments in Florida’s Education System:
- Called for and secured the highest ever per-pupil spending totals at $7,793 per student, an increase of more than $137 per student over the previous year.
- Secured the highest ever K-12 public school funding, with $22.5 billion in state and local funding, including $100 million for mental health initiatives.
- Increased the Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten budget for a total of more than $400 million.
- Pay Raises for Florida teachers:
- Championed and secured $500 million to raise the minimum teacher salary and provide raises for veteran teachers and other instructional personnel, boosting Florida to top five in the nation for starting teacher pay.
- Maintained $10 million in funding to support teacher bonuses and professional development in computer science.
- Expansion of school choice options for students:
- Championed and signed legislation to increase the enrollment of the Family Empowerment Scholarship by nearly 30,000 students.
- Secured an increase of $42 million for a total of nearly $190 million in funding for the Gardiner Scholarship, clearing the scholarship waitlist.
- In October, Step Up for Students awarded their one millionth school choice scholarship since the organization’s founding in 2001. During the 2019-20 school year, the Florida Department of Education, Step Up for Students, and AAA Scholarships collectively funded over 180,500 scholarships for students with special needs, students from low-middle income families, students who have endured bullying, and students who struggle with reading.
- Elimination of Common Core from Florida’s classrooms and replaced with Florida’s B.E.S.T. Standards (Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking).
- The State Board of Education formally adopted Florida’s B.E.S.T. Standards. They will be fully implemented by 2022.
- Flexibility for families and educators during the COVID-19 public health emergency:
- Directed school districts throughout the state to provide parents with the option of in-person or remote learning for their children.
- Extended the deadline for students to earn the minimum qualifying SAT or ACT score to obtain a Bright Futures scholarship.
- Created an outreach and incentive-driven effort to reward childcare programs that remained open to support the families of Florida’s first responders and health care workers, so they could continue to serve all Floridians.
- Provided comprehensive distance learning resources in partnership with Florida Virtual School to ensure students continued learning while school campuses were closed and followed best practices for distance learning.
- Provided more than 32,000 laptops to 34 small and rural school districts to quickly serve Florida’s students as they transitioned to distance learning.
- Created the Florida Civics and Debate Initiative (FCDI), through a partnership between the Florida Department of Education and The Marcus Foundation, to elevate civic knowledge, civic skills and civic disposition for middle and high school students. The initiative, which includes a multiyear, $5 million grant from The Marcus Foundation, promotes the expansion of middle and high school debate and speech programs to all of Florida’s public school districts and support for high-quality teachers that are catalysts for students becoming great citizens who can preserve our constitutional republic for future generations.
- Almost 700 students throughout 105 Florida schools have participated in 9 regional competitions. Additionally, 12 regional educators were named statewide ambassadors, and over 80 Florida educators have become coaches. Since the inception of FCDI, there has been an 83% average increase in participation in speech and debate in the South and Central Florida regions combined.
- Maintained Florida’s higher education system standing in national rankings:
- Florida was ranked by U.S. News and World Report as the top state in the nation for higher education for the third year in a row.
- Three universities were ranked in the top 50 public universities by U.S. News and World Report: The University of Florida (6), Florida State University (19) and the University of South Florida (46).
- Endorsed and signed legislation allowing college student-athletes to be compensated for the use of their name, image and likeness.
- Successfully advocated for the return of college and high school sports throughout the state as well as activities such as youth sports leagues and summer camps.
- Secured $180 million for the safe schools’ component of the Florida Education Finance Program and over $40 million in school hardening grants.
- Invested more than $124 million for Florida’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities to advance the academics, research and education of students.
- First Lady Casey DeSantis announced a partnership between the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) and the Florida Department of Children and Families to provide nearly 1,000 devices to Florida children in foster care who need a mobile technology device, such as a laptop or notebook, to help address the unique challenges to educational stability that these students confront.
- Maintained $10 million in funding for the Florida Pathways to Career Opportunities Grant Program to establish or expand pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs for high school and college students.
Protecting and Restoring Florida’s Environmental Resources
- Secured over $625 million for the protection of water resources for the second consecutive year. Totals included:
- Over $322 million for Everglades restoration
- $50 million for springs restoration
- $160 million for targeted water quality improvements
- $40 million for alternative water supply
- $25 million to combat harmful algal blooms and red tide
- Over $28 million in local water projects
- Directed the Department of Environmental Protection to purchase 20,000 acres of critical wetlands in the heart of the Everglades, protecting the lands from oil drilling.
- Successfully advocated for President Trump to include $250 million for Everglades restoration in his 2021 budget request.
- Announced $50 million for more than 20 statewide springs restoration projects to aid the recovery and provide additional protection for Florida’s springs.
- Championed and signed legislation known as the “Clean Waterways Act” to minimize the impact of known sources of nutrient pollution, realign the State’s resources to enhance the protection of Florida’s environment and strengthen regulatory requirements.
- Championed and signed legislation increasing fines for sanitary sewer overflows by 100 percent, and all other fines for environmental crimes by at least 50 percent, to deter bad actors and ensure environmental investments are safeguarded.
- Announced additional plans to utilize Volkswagen Settlement dollars to add electric fast-charging stations along interstates across Florida to encourage electric mobility and reduce fuel emissions. Under the leadership of Governor DeSantis, and through efforts by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), the state is adding approximately 66 fast-charging stations, providing 168 fast chargers to the state’s existing publicly available inventory.
- Approved the acquisition of 15 Florida Forever parcels totaling more than 42,000 acres in conservation lands, to preserve Florida’s natural treasures and lands for future generations of Floridians.
- Expedited and helped secure the required federal permit to begin work on the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir Project 6,500-acre Stormwater Treatment Area. One of the most important Everglades restoration projects in history, the Project provides ecological benefits, reduces harmful discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and sends more clean water south to the Everglades.
- Announced a $20 million investment into the protection and preservation of Biscayne Bay, a joint funding initiative between the State of Florida and Miami-Dade County. The state of Florida and Miami-Dade County will each invest $10 million, for a total of $20 million, for important infrastructure updates and new technology to help predict and prevent sanitary sewer overflows into the bay.
- Announced more than $5 million in grant funding for the South Florida Water Management District and Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute to protect and study water quality.
Supporting Floridians Through Mental Health & Substance Abuse Initiatives
- Announced $23 million in funding to bolster Florida’s mental health services system derived from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to reinforce mental health support available in Florida and allow the Department of Children and Families to continue providing mental health and substance abuse treatment for Floridians in need. Of the $23 million in funding, $18 million was provided for Community Based Services by expanding the capacity of the Florida Assertive Community Teams (FACT), Community Action Teams (CAT) and the Family Intensive Treatment Teams (FIT) to serve an additional 300 adults and 375 youth with severe mental illness needing crisis intervention.
- Additionally, the Governor and First Lady announced that Florida is working with federal partners to set aside a portion of a previously announced $4.9 million federal grant to be used for peer-to-peer counseling services for Florida’s first responders through the state’s 2-1-1 support system.
- Through her Hope for Healing campaign, First Lady Casey DeSantis made several funding announcements and spearheaded multiple initiatives to support Florida families, including:
- $2 million to 18 rural Florida school districts to increase students’ access to mental health and student support services and to enhance access to school and community-based providers.
- $5.2 million for counties in Northwest Florida to support continuing efforts to expand telemental health services and rebuild early education facilities following Hurricane Michael.
- Nearly $5 million to implement a Crisis Counseling Program to help Floridians respond to the behavioral health impacts of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
- Nearly $700,000 to extend Hurricane Michael crisis counseling services in Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson and Washington counties.
- $2 million for a Preschool Development Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Grant to provide mental health sub-grants to enhance the skills of the early childhood workforce for improved classroom environments and individualized mental health services to children.
- Launched “The Facts. Your Future.” statewide campaign which aims to provide Florida’s youth with the facts surrounding substance abuse and how it negatively impacts their lives.
- Established the H.O.P.E. Innovators initiative, a statewide community-based team tasked with developing innovative ways to connect Florida students and parents with mental health information and resources.
- Created Hope Ambassadors, a youth peer-to-peer student mentorship program that will recruit student volunteers to work with their peers and help create an environment of kindness and compassion in their schools.
- First Lady Casey DeSantis announced that the Florida Department of Children and Families awarded a $1.2 million, three-year grant to Gadsden County for a new Criminal Justice Diversion Project.
- This project will provide a comprehensive array of services and support for residents with untreated mental health and substance abuse challenges that too often trap them in the criminal justice system.
- Governor DeSantis and First Lady DeSantis announced that Florida has been awarded $5 million to create a new pilot program, Support to Communities: Fostering Opioid Recovery through Workforce Development.
- The program and funding will be used to provide wrap-around services, including recovery and support services, career training and employment services to participants directly impacted by the opioid epidemic.
Practicing Good Governance
- Made 61 judicial appointments across various courts throughout the state and expanded representation of historically underrepresented groups, including women and racial minorities, on the bench.
- Of the newly appointed judges, nearly 40% are female and nearly 30% are minorities.
- Championed and signed Senate Bill 1326, the Department of Children and Families Accountability Act, which reinstates a system of accountability within Florida’s child welfare system and restores the department’s role in driving performance internally, as well as among all community-based care (CBC) lead agencies and managing entity providers.
- The DCF Accountability Act established an Office of Quality Assurance within the department, responsible for developing and implementing a measurable grading scheme to monitor both internal programs and contracted vendors throughout state.
- This legislation also encourages representatives from local churches and community organizations to engage in the state’s child welfare system and advise DCF on outreach efforts. With their extensive networks, grassroots perspective, and innate compassion, these individuals have an unparalleled ability to support initiatives like foster parent recruitment.
- Led the charge to initiate, and eventually sign, legislation removing the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence from Florida Statutes following exposure of egregious corruption and spending practices.
- The legislation allows the Department of Children and Families to administer all programs related to domestic violence services, restoring accountability in government for our most vulnerable residents and survivors of domestic violence.
- Announced that the Agency for Health Care Administration officially submitted its Section 804 Importation Proposal (SIP) to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for Florida’s Canadian Prescription Drug Importation Program. This marked another milestone in Governor DeSantis’ pioneering efforts to lower the high cost of prescription drugs for Floridians.
- Recognized and participated in a virtual celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Additionally, Governor DeSantis recognized July 24 as “Americans with Disabilities Act Awareness Day” with an official proclamation affirming Florida’s position as an accommodating state for more than three million individuals who live daily with some form of physical or mental disability, and our dedication to supporting individuals with unique abilities and their families as they work to achieve their dreams.