AVON PARK, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis and Senior Chancellor Henry Mack from the Florida Dept. of Education are expected to speak in Avon Park. The event was focused on workforce training initiatives, according to information handed out to the crowd.

Flyers from the event listed “Critical Workforce Academies” as the topic, with information about grants to be awarded to assist state colleges with dual enrollment and vocational training initiatives for high school students and others.

When DeSantis came and to begin the event, he said the day’s event was a big announcement. Previously, he mentioned, he’d been in the county to discuss truck driver training initiatives and help improve supply chain workforce levels. DeSantis said the state had been working hard to help with recovery from Hurricane Ian after detailing previous programs he’d announced to help with trucker training efforts.

Before discussing the day’s new initiative, DeSantis praised the Florida educational system, following up new score rankings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which reported Florida 4th and 8th graders had performed well for reading and math, ranking third in the nation.

He also mentioned new tax relief options for Hurricane Ian victims, and discussed a planned special legislative session focused on property insurance. DeSantis said recovery in Florida, particularly bridge repairs, were something that Florida “just did” rather than asking permission from anyone, including the federal government.

“What this should remind us, is the importance of some of these occupations, that go into serving our communities,” DeSantis said. “And it’s not just in a natural disaster, that we appreciate it, but certainly when you look at the people involved in emergency management, I’d say in Florida we do it better than any other state.”

The governor said it was important to attract good people into the emergency management space, as well as in nursing, law enforcement, and first responder fields. He announced a $9 million grant to three state colleges to strengthen workforce and college education programs, which he called critical needs in Florida. The funding itself comes from the Critical Workforce Training grants, according to DeSantis.

DeSantis said South Florida State College would get $2.8 million, while Daytona State College would also get $2.8 million. St. Pete College, which will oversee the workforce training program, will receive $3.4 million.

The colleges will establish regional partnerships with school districts “to develop career academies for in-demand occupations,” DeSantis said. The programs will include “emergency management, law enforcement, health care,” and education, all of which the governor said were important parts of the economy and society.

“We expect in three years, more than 2,000 students will graduate with credentials in these high demand fields, as a result of our effort,” DeSantis said. “I think this will provide reliable opportunities for people in this community, particularly as you see folks continue to rebuild after Hurricane Ian.” Then the governor brought the checks forward to present the grants to the three colleges.

After a brief photo opportunity, DeSantis said more assistance would be coming, including from the Florida Disaster Fund. He said it had already given $7 million, aimed at helping those impacted by the storm. The governor also said funding was being portioned out for law enforcement, first responders, and teachers who had been impacted by the storm but could not respond to the damages to their own homes while performing their work.

Part of that effort included $2 million to organizations that rebuild homes, with the funding used to buy material and equipment to perform that work, according to DeSantis. The governor gave time to officials from the Florida school system and members of the workforce to speak. They praised the commitment and support of staff and state colleges, as well as thanking the governor for the grant assistance to support workforce education.

Florida Dept. of Education Senior Chancellor Henry Mack spoke as well, thanking DeSantis for putting students first and providing much needed investment in Florida’s State College System, as well as career and technical education. Mack said the level of increase in workforce credentials was unprecedented, not just for Florida but for the United States and that DeSantis was a governor who cared about students as well as staying focused on a strong economy.

DeSantis returned to the podium after, saying the state was happy to provide opportunity to students to get a good education and learn skills without going deep into debt.

“Some of these places are producing degrees, some of which aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, they’re charging exorbitant amounts, people are taking on exorbitant loans,” DeSantis said, pointing out lower costs for tuition in Florida and how the state had not raised tuition since he took office in 2019.

He did not take questions. Shortly after finishing his speech, someone in the crowd reportedly passed out. The governor asked for someone to provide medical attention before taking photos with those gathered.

The event was the first public appearance by DeSantis after the gubernatorial debate on Monday night against Democratic challenger Charlie Crist.

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