Governor introduces plan to reopen Florida schools

Millions in CARES Act funding to be allocated to schools

In a news conference Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Commissioner Richard Corcoran announced that they plan to reopen schools for in-person learning in the fall of 2020.

[SEE FULL PLAN: Reopening Florida’s Schools and the CARES Act]

“We want schools fully open in the fall because there is no better way to educate our kids than have that great teacher in front of that child,” Corcoran said. “We also know that they are not at a low risk, they are at an extremely low risk, not only of contracting (COVID-19), but even spreading it. And so we’re saying, ‘Open up the schools. Let’s get the best educational environment. Let’s keep everybody safe in our educational community and now attack like no other state has before the achievement gap.'”

Both the commissioner and governor said the funding would be allocated so summer programs could open for in-person learning this year as well.

[MORE COVERAGE: Central Florida school districts respond to state plan to reopen schools in August | Already at-risk Florida students face greatest learning gaps due to coronavirus school closures]

While the governor said he believed Florida has one of the most effective distance-learning programs in the state, he said there is no true replacement for face-to-face learning between students and teachers.

Under his plan to reopen schools, DeSantis outlines phases in which he would do so, much like his phased plan to reopen the state as a whole:

  • Step 1 – June – open up campuses for youth activities and summer camps
  • Step 2 – July – expand campus capacities further for summer recovery instruction
  • Step 3 – August – open up campuses at full capacity for traditional start of the academic year

All reopening steps would include provisions for students, staff and faculty to follow health and safety guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including practicing social distancing when possible, frequent handwashing and symptom monitoring.

The governor also announced that he would be using federal dollars through the CARES Act to fund the return of students to classrooms.

“We’ve been able to provide a roadmap to announce the return of our schools to on-campus instruction, and to bring long-term improvements to the instructional continuity, using the federal funds provided through the CARES Act to make significant investments in our education system achievement gaps.”

[INTERACTIVE MAP: Coronavirus cases in Florida]

DeSantis listed the following ways in which CARES Act funding would be allocated to help students and staff return to schools:

  • $64 million would “be provided to close achievement gaps that have likely been exacerbated during the pandemic.” DeSantis said the “funds will provide a four- to five-week summer program on school campuses to students from K-5th, who are identified with a substantial deficiency in reading based on assessment, and teacher recommendations plan also focuses on an intensive effort to improve student reading proficiency.”
  • $20 million would be invested “to engage school districts and schools in identifying and adopting the best reading curriculum and supplemental instructional materials to drive teaching and learning from grades K-3rd.”
  • $15 million would be dedicated “to train and develop 2,000 highly effective reading coaches, develop and deploy strategies for in-classroom support with reading coaches and develop regional support teams to identify and assist students with reading improvement.”
  • More than $223 million would be allocated for early learning programs, which “includes $55 million to provide financial assistance to childcare providers that remained open during the crisis, with infrastructure personnel costs, cleaning supplies and other costs to maintain a safe learning environment.”
  • $16.9 million would be given to “high-quality childcare providers who agreed to reopen as part of Florida schools’ reopening plan.”
  • $20.9 million would be spent “for successful transition to kindergarten programs to implement summer programs for approximately 45,000 rising kindergarten students identified with limited language and emergent literacy skills.”
  • “$45 million is set aside as a safety-net fund to ensure students don’t continue to have disruptions in their education. These funds include up to $30 million set aside to protect tax credit scholarships entering the school year and up to $15 million in financial relief to assist schools that have a majority of public scholarship students to keep those students enrolled so they can continue their education as their parents see fit. This will protect funding for traditional K-12 schools by preventing large increases in enrollments.”
  • $8 million would be set aside “to allow every public school student graduating in the 2020 or 2021 academic year, to take the ACT or SAT, free of charge.”
  • $5 million would be allocated to “expand civic literacy in our schools’ workforce training and job programs.”
  • “$35 million will be provided to increase capacity around short term, in-demand technical certificate programs, market-driven and in-demand, clock-out career certificate programs and in-demand industry certificate preparation courses at Florida’s 28 state colleges and the state’s 48 technical colleges.”
  • $10.9 million would be provided “for career and technical education equipment grants and support K-12 or post-secondary career courses.”

The Education Association released a statement on the governor’s plan to reopen the school Thursday, saying safety must remain top priority in schools.

“Ultimately, parents in local communities throughout the state will decide how and when schools reopen,” said FEA President Fedrick Ingram. “No matter what dictates come down from Tallahassee, students will not return to schools until parents have confidence their child and their child’s teachers will be safe and protected.”

As of Thursday, the Florida Department of Health reported 1,698 new cases of the novel coronavirus since approximately the same time the day before, as well as 47 newly reported deaths.

[TIMELINE: The spread of coronavirus in Florida]

Thursday saw the largest increase in reported coronavirus cases on record in Florida; June 4 previously held the record for the largest increase in cases, standing at 1,419 newly reported infections.

The new numbers bring the total number of COVID-19 cases reported in the state since the disease was first detected in Florida on March 1 to 69,069, with a total of 2,848 deaths related to the respiratory illness.

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About the Author:

Erin began her career at News 6 as an assignment editor, then became a show producer. She is now a digital storyteller as part of the Click Orlando team.