Gov. Ron DeSantis stopped in Indian River County on Tuesday to sign two bills into law that aim to better prepare the youngest students for success in school.
DeSantis signed the bills into law at Childcare Resources of Indian River.
He was joined by State Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, State Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, State Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne and State Rep. Vance Aloupis, R-Miami, for the announcement.
"House Bill 419 makes meaningful improvements to state accountability for our early learning programs," DeSantis said.
The new laws prioritize screening and monitoring for students in VPK programs, helping parents and teachers learn sooner if a child needs more help or intervention in math and literacy.
The new law does the following:
- Revises approved child care or early education settings for the placement of certain children
- Revises the requirements of the Gold Seal Quality Care program
- Requires students enrolled in the Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program to participate in a specified screening and progress monitoring program
- Revises early learning coalition responsibilities and duties
- Authorizing certain students who enrolled in the Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program to receive intensive reading interventions using specified funds
The law also holds the state more accountable for student success by creating a division of early learning under the Department of Education.
"Both sectors, the early learning sector and the K-12 sector, are now going to be working together, which I think is going to be a huge improvement for the state and for our children," said Shannon McGuire-Boman, the executive director at Childcare Resources of Indian River.
Grall, who sponsored the bill, said she has been pushing for this legislation for at least three years.
"This policy is all about empowering parents and families and giving parents the information they need at that critical time in a child's life to make the best decisions for their children," Grall said.
HB 7011 creates a statewide progress monitoring tool to understand VPK through eighth-grade student's academic progress in real-time. The goal is to have 90 percent of Florida's third-graders reading on grade level by 2030.
"This bill, mark my words, will be one of the most transformational pieces of policy, not only that was passed this year, but has been passed in two decades in educational reform in Florida," Aloupis said.
Currently, students are assessed for readiness after they start kindergarten. This means some parents weren't getting the information they needed to determine if their children were ready, which state leaders say set them up for failure.
"When I took office, our kindergarten readiness was 42 percent, and we need to do better than that," DeSantis said.
Boman feels the law will help make sure all VPKs are working toward the same goal.
"It was set up so people could go to work and have a safe place to take their children, but [some are] totally missing the educational opportunity," Boman said.
Her center takes in children as young as 6-weeks old.
"Children are born learning. We really need to leverage this time in their life. By the time a child is 4 to 5 years old, their brain is about 90 percent developed. This is the time in their life that we need to be setting that really solid foundation," Boman said.
The new law also sets up a reading achievement program that allows high school students to volunteer as reading coaches for young students.
They can use those volunteer hours toward earning a Bright Futures Scholarship.
The new education law takes effect July 1.
During the news conference, DeSantis also said more than 90 percent of seniors in Indian River County have been vaccinated against COVID-19. That figure is among the highest in the state.
DeSantis took a shot at U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., who announced earlier Tuesday he will be running for governor next year. Crist, the one-time Republican governor of Florida, switched parties in 2012.
"What party is (Crist) going to run in this time?" DeSantis joked. "I thought, heck, maybe he gives the Green Party a chance. He's certainly voting that way. We'll see what happens."
DeSantis also spoke later in the day at West Miami Middle School in Miami-Dade County to discuss the new law.
During the speech in Miami-Dade County, he announced the special election dates to fill the vacated seat for Florida's 20th Congressional district following the death last month of longtime U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings.
DeSantis said the primary for the seat will be held Nov. 2 while the general election will be held Jan. 11.
The governor made headlines Monday by suspending all local emergency orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic effective immediately.