Jul 22, 2020

State of Education in Florida

A lot has happened in the last couple of months. Legislative session ended. Districts moved quickly — and, for the most part, successfully — to distance learning. Florida announced priorities for federal CARES Act funding. Governor DeSantis signed the 2020-21 budget. And now school administrators prepare for the fall semester as COVID-19 cases in the state are at an all-time high.

See below for the current highlights on K-12 education in Florida:

2020 Legislative Policy Update. Far fewer education bills than usual passed this year; however, lawmakers still managed to achieve some big wins, including increasing access to Family Empowerment and Gardiner scholarships as well as Reading Scholarship Accounts. Additionally, lawmakers expanded pathways and funding for workforce readiness, such as apprenticeships and industry certifications. One of the biggest accomplishments, however, was passing a teacher compensation package that will increase starting pay for all first year teachers, in addition to many veterans. Check out Florida Department of Education’s 2020 bill summaries here.

2020-21 Legislative Budget. In total, Governor DeSantis vetoed more than $1 billion from next year’s state budget, leaving $92.2 billion for the state. Despite the significant vetoes, education funds remain mostly intact, with a total of $21.5 billion in early learning, K-12, career and adult education, and colleges. In K-12, per-student funding increased by $137/student and funding for voluntary pre-K increased by $9.9 million. In a surprise move to many, Governor DeSantis kept the $500 million in teacher pay raises passed by the legislature, which is the largest single teacher compensation package ever passed in the state.

CARES Act Funding Priorities. As one of the first states to announce its funding priorities for education, Florida is taking a long-term approach to how it will spend the $475 million in state-directed federal assistance. Governor DeSantis and Commissioner Richard Corcoran shared big goals in their guide to Reopening Florida’s Schools and the CARES Act, released in June, which focuses on increasing capacity and infrastructure in the areas of literacy, progress monitoring, early learning, workforce readiness, and more.

School Reopening. In an effort to encourage districts to provide in-person instruction this fall, Commissioner Corcoran issued Emergency Order 2020-EO-06, which requires districts to reopen schools buildings for instruction five days per week, subject to local and state health department guidelines. Meanwhile, the Florida Education Association announced its members have filed suit against the state on the reopening requirement. Despite the order, districts are weighing the options to fully reopen, to begin with virtual instruction only, or push back the start of the school year altogether. Districts are required to submit their reopening plans to the Florida Department of Education by July 31. The Department is posting them online as they are approved.