TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis spoke at Santa Fe College in Gainesville to announce another round of job growth grant funds. The college received $89 million for workforce education training initiatives.

“We believe Santa Fe, like many of our state colleges, have really done a great job of providing students with skills in very high demand fields. Here at Santa Fe, they’ve really got a good record. Their career and technical programs have a job placement rate of 97%,” DeSantis said. He mentioned their HVAC program, among others, as proof of their program success.

The governor was joined by various education and business leaders, as well as students school’s nursing and vocational training programs, while underscoring the state’s efforts at improving workforce education.

“Florida’s economy has outpaced the nation. We’ve got a lot of problems nationally, with some of the stuff out of Washington, you look at the inflation, it’s been really really significant, much higher than 6% or 7%, for things like gas and groceries,” DeSantis said. “Certainly building materials. This has a huge effect. So we’re really having to counterbalance the bad policies we’ve seen, that have caused a lot of problems, and I think we’ve done it well. Since 2019 we’ve had a 61% increase, in 2019, now we have the number one for new business formations in the entire United States. So, California for example, is a higher, it’s almost twice the size of the state of Florida, and yet we have 114,000 new business formations [more] than they do even in California. So, number one in business formations, number one outpacing the nation in terms of job growth and a lot of the other things, and I think part of the reasons people are forming businesses here are, one, they know the state is going to be open, two they know we have one of the more talented workforces in the nation thanks to our emphasis on career and technical education.”

DeSantis then laid out how the state will distribute $89 million to support workforce training initiatives at state colleges and school districts across Florida.

He said $10 million would be awarded to state colleges and universities “such as Santa Fe” to create career and technical education charter schools. DeSantis said the charter schools would be made so that students can gain education credentials in high-demand fields while earning their high school diplomas.

“When students from these new charter schools graduate, they will be prepared to join the workforce if they so choose, with no debt, and will be able to earn very very good salaries,” DeSantis said. “Some as high as six figures, in certain fields. So similar awards will go, not just to Santa Fe, but to Northwest Florida State College, Tallahassee Community College, St. Pete College and Miami-Dade College. One of the things we’ve really emphasized since I’ve been governor, yes we like the state universities, the state colleges, it’s great, but so much of the career and technical has moved out of high schools where it used to be a staple. It seems like over the last generation, that was deemphasized.”

The governor said he wanted to get more of those opportunities in high schools and have more opportunities for apprenticeships, through the charter schools focused on technical training. The state will also be expanding funding to post-secondary career and technical training. Florida will be spending $26.5 million for career dual-enrollment in STEM-related programs, $20 million to “accelerate cyber-security and IT post-secondary pathways,” another $12 million to increase registered apprenticeship programs, and $9 million for “critical workforce needs” focused on nursing, supply chain and law enforcement professions.

“We’re also awarding $12 million educator resources and data-driven supports for students and employers,” DeSantis said. The governor said that counting the day’s award, the state has invested $3.5 billion in workforce education across Florida.

He said the Florida College System has added 11 CTE-baccalaureate degree programs in high-value fields like cybersecurity, healthcare, and information technology since 2019. DeSantis said there were nearly 775,000 CTE students in Florida K-12 schools and 338,000 CTE students in post-secondary education programs. The state also has 50 new apprenticeship programs, for more than 300 across Florida, according to DeSantis. The governor said the training programs were making it easier for businesses to find qualified employees in the state than previous years.

Continuing on about Florida’s workforce and education initiatives, DeSantis said there was a huge demand for homes, office space and new construction, highlighting the “good job” Santa Fe was doing to address those workforce needs.

“In our budget this year, and we’re working with the legislature now, we recommended an increase in Florida’s Job Growth Grant Fund, so this is something that the governor is able to work with local communities, award things, both infrastructure and for career and job training,” DeSantis said. “We’ve typically had it in the $50-$60 million dollar range, we’re asking for $100 million because we’ve seen high impacts on it, whether it’s connecting industrial parks with roads to help expand different types of business footprints there.”

The Job Growth Grant Fund was planned to start in 2020, but was delayed by the governor’s veto during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. There has so far only been one year that the grant program was funded and active, 2021.

DeSantis said the funding would be used to continue the work it’s been doing across the state in recent months, such as commercial workforce training with a focus on commercial vehicle licenses to address supply chain issues. He said the training so far has “had a huge impact” and that the funding would make a big difference. Additionally, the governor said he was asking the legislature for an extra $534 million to pay for different workforce education training programs, including $100 million for “workforce development capitalization incentive, to be used for instructional equipment, lab equipment, supplies and other expenses associated with workforce development programs.”

The governor said it was clear this was a space the state should remain active in, and that the momentum of its success must be maintained. He again focused on cutting down on student debt as a reason to prioritize the training programs, so that students could graduate without “a millstone hanging around their necks.”

“This is not only giving people skills to be able to apply that and get jobs, but it also gives them a foundation that if they have an entrepreneurial bent, they can then go,” DeSantis said. “When you have a state that’s growing, you need HVAC, you need electrical, you need all of these things. And the demand is going to continue to be strong.”

He promised additional announcements to come, continuing the focus on manufacturing and education. The governor said there was excitement about the focus on workforce education and the opportunities it would provide for Florida students, including non-traditional students. DeSantis said the average age of students at Santa Fe was about 27-years-old.

Erik Worthmann, President of Comfort Tech, which DeSantis said hires students from the Santa Fe programs to work for their heating and air company, spoke next.

“We’ve been involved with the Santa Fe College program here, the apprenticeship program, since it started,” Worthmann said. “Over that time, we’ve hired and put through the apprenticeship program over 50 graduates. I’ve seen these graduates come from starting off their first-year apprenticeship, starting off making $35, $45,000 a year. After they graduate, they’re making $65, $75,000 a year, and that’s just the start of their journey in the trades and their career. Goes up from there.”

Worthmann said it was “amazing” to have a governor who understands the need for trade and skills in jobs and businesses that “improve the economy” such as construction and other skilled labor.

“If you enjoy working with your hands and being outside, the apprenticeship program at Santa Fe is for you,” Worthmann said. “This is an amazing program and it gives you a great opportunity to get into our industries and I appreciate everything that the governor is doing and that Santa Fe College does here.”

Dr. Paul Broadie of Santa Fe College spoke next. He thanked the governor and Florida Department of Education Senior Chancellor Henry Mack for their efforts to improve and invest in education across the state.

“This investment in workforce is so essential, when we talk about economic and social mobility, it starts with our workforce, it starts with education at the center,” Broadie said. “Our investment, the governor’s investment, the chancellor’s investment in workforce is so impactful for our community right here.”

He pointed out the students gathered behind him, asking for applause for them, and called the students the state’s future. Broadie said programs focused on HVAC, electrical, plumbing, and other trades were working on a house, set up behind the gathering, which would go to a Gainesville family.

“Service, service and your commitment to this community, never forget that,” Broadie said. “They’re learning side-by-side, hands-on.”

He highlighted partnerships focused on expanding trades and skills training, including with local hospitals, that had “100% job placement” through Santa Fe College programs. Brody said it was an effort to help people realize their dreams and have a healthy, sustainable life.

Broadie promised that students would get their high school diploma and certifications in two industries through the planned charter schools to be funded by the state. He said no matter what path the students took, to higher education or to the workforce, students would leave the charter school with three achieved qualifications. Then Broadie thanked the gathered leaders for helping impact students and expressed pride in the school’s faculty and staff.

“Any investment in education is a great investment,” Broadie said. “I want to thank the governor, the chancellor, the commissioner, for their investment in the Florida College System, because throughout our state, the Florida College System is helping with social and economic mobility. It’s helping to make a difference in the lives of individuals. In a variety of ways, and I want to thank you for that investment in our Florida College System, and in particular, in Santa Fe.”

Chancellor Mack spoke next, thanking the faculty and staff for prioritizing career and technical education training, saying it was no longer a barrier to prosperity but an opportunity. Similar to other, recent Job Growth Grant Fund award events, Mack echoed his praise for the program and the investment in providing workforce talent to meet business needs.

Mack said the $3.5 billion investment since 2019 was “historic” for the state, and was money going to programs with a high return on investment for students entering the workforce. He said it wasn’t an anecdotal story, but data-driven proof that students were getting jobs and making the salary figures the governor had cited.

He said the nearly $90 million awarded today was owed not just to the legislature or governor, but the staff at the Florida Department of Education for their work in ensuring the money was used as intended.

When DeSantis returned to the podium, he again pointed out how Florida has treated its nurses “better” compared to other states, in the governor’s view. He said having these newly proposed charter schools were going to make a difference for the state, then took questions.

The first question was focused on Critical Race Theory and associated curriculums. DeSantis said “CRT and woke” was wrong and pitted people against each other, based on race.

“It’s also denigrating our country. It’s been very unpopular wherever it’s been tried, and we want to make sure people can go to school without being scapegoated, without being targeted, and I think that’s where the vast majority of people want to be,” DeSantis said. “So that’s the right thing to do and we’re happy to do it. People come after me all of the time, but I think it’s telling that if they have to manufacture some type of fake narrative, they don’t have policies that they can put up that are going to be very effective. All of these people are big supporters of the policies we’ve seen with Biden that’s driving the inflation, that’s really wreaking havoc on a lot of family budgets.”

DeSantis highlighted increased gas and grocery costs, as well as the cost to build homes, saying the prices had to go up 30% due to ongoing supply chain issues. He said it’s “like the Chewbacca defense” to distract people, but that the strategy doesn’t work, and promised to hold people accountable for bad policies.

The governor said when it came to fighting against Biden policies, Florida was one of the states having success doing so.

Focusing on the legislative session, DeSantis said there would be protections developed for hospitals, in response to COVID lockdowns, which he said were dragged on for months and months and kept families apart, forced to talk over Zoom instead of in-person. He said people needed access to their loved ones.

“That had huge, negative consequences for so many families throughout our country, so I’ve been talking for a long time about needing to do that,” DeSantis said. “Now, some hospitals in Florida have done a much better job on that, but not all. I mean, we see examples where people are not being treated, so our view is COVID cannot be used as an excuse to deny patients basic rights. One of the rights, I think, of being a patient is you have your loved ones present when you’re dealing with these serious medical issues. And it’s not just end of life.”

DeSantis said people are going to the hospital for significant issues and they should have access to their loved ones. So, he said there would be legislation proposed for a “patients’ bill of rights” which was a “huge component.” Even with COVID, he said he understood mitigation factors, but questioned just how effective they would be in impacting disease prevalence, and said adding emotional damage to families was unneeded.

“This idea that people should just be isolated, and that’s the way to kind of keep people healthy is ridiculous, and it’s failed,” DeSantis said. “So, a lot of Florida hospitals have done a good job. And a lot of the hospital folks that my wife’s working with…they want to be able to do this. But not everyone’s doing it, so we’re going to have that there.”

The governor also said a similar issue happened in the state’s nursing homes, saying that an attempt like this had been made in the summer of 2020. He said there was such a fear of COVID getting into nursing homes, that facilities had locked down, so the state had worked with them to improve. DeSantis said patients and families should have the right of visitation.

Pivoting to a question about alternative treatment options, DeSantis said people should have the right to try different medications to treat COVID-19, and that it was “inappropriate to crack down” on people for trying other drugs “off label,” even if the drugs have been approved for human consumption.

DeSantis criticized pharmaceuticals like Remdesivir or the new COVID treatment from Merck as examples of treatments that had no benefit, while other drugs were prevented from testing. The governor also doubled down on his push for in-person learning, saying people accused him of “pushing it.”

“They’re accusing me of ‘pushing’ in-person learning, yeah, you’re damn right I want kids in-person learning in school. That’s how they’re supposed to learn in school. The remote learning? Florida, we do better than anyone in remote. We’ve had Florida virtual school, we’ve had a lot of opportunities for people, other states mimic our curriculum, we’re proud of that,” DeSantis said. “But that really serves a very small niche, it’s not good enough for what we need on a daily basis. So, our view is kids need to be in school, it’s very very important, we’re certainly better off for having kids in school, I don’t think that there’s any way you could argue that if you look at what’s happened in other parts of the country.”

Repeating previous critiques of how remote learning affects students, DeSantis again claimed that remote learning has a higher negative impact on low-income students across the state, or those with single parents. He said it didn’t affect upper-income families as much, such as families that could afford private tutors. DeSantis said it was unacceptable that some politicians pushed for lockdowns at public schools but sent their own children in-person to private schools. He said the data was very clear and the state was confident about it.

“Remote was a total disaster,” DeSantis said, also saying that teachers had wanted to return to schools after seeing the negative effect virtual learning had on students.

Focusing on affordable housing, DeSantis said the Sadowski fund was fully funded, but that ongoing inflation issues would make it less effective and blamed Biden’s policies for making costs rise, and force rental prices higher. Pointing at the positive gains in jobs for the service industry and other sectors in Florida, DeSantis said people were moving to Florida to leave COVID lockdowns and high-crime areas. He also said bad criminal justice policies have led to “the biggest crime surge that we’ve seen in this country in decades.”

DeSantis said the demand to be in Florida was due to its status as a “beachhead of freedom” in the U.S., against lockdowns, mandates and poor policies.