NORTH PORT, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke in North Port at Toledo Blade Elementary School. He was joined there by Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. The two officials were in North Port to announce $200 million in school recognition funding awards.
The funding is intended to make impacts on schools in need through the School Recognition Program. The $200 million was going to schools that “showed student growth and teaching excellence” in the previous school year.
To qualify, schools must improve a letter grade in the state’s rating system. DeSantis said 1,400 schools in Florida would get pieces of that funding.
“There’s really been a great showing from areas that just happened to be hit by Hurricane Ian,” DeSantis said. “There’ll be 24 schools in Sarasota County that will receive school recognition bonuses, including $142,000 right here at Toledo Blade Elementary School, which is an A school.”
Another 27 schools in Lee County will get $3.6 million, according to the governor, while 38 in Collier County will receive a collective $5 million, as well as six schools in Charlotte County that will receive a total of $600,000. Bowling Green Elementary in Hardee County will receive $54,000 as part of the funding program. A release from the governor’s office said 96 Southwest Florida schools will share a total of $13 million form the program.
He said the funds could be used to bring in temporary personnel and address other needs, including providing bonuses, purchasing equipment, or buy materials to assist with increasing student performance levels.
“It’s really important that when you have success, that it’s recognized,” DeSantis said.
Detailing hurricane recovery efforts, DeSantis mentioned previously announced funds made available to help first responders get back on their feet from the hurricane, with the funding itself coming from the Florida Disaster Fund.
DeSantis also said that all but two schools in Sarasota County were reopening, starting Tuesday. He said having schools open helped to restore normalcy after the hurricane’s impacts.
Toledo Blade principal Jennifer Dolciotto accepted the recognition of the school’s performance on behalf of staff and teachers, thanking leaders and first responders, and other community members, for helping them recover and reopen schools. She said the funding award would help staff support personalized needs of both teachers and students.
Education Commissioner Diaz spoke as well, discussing reopening efforts after Hurricane Ian. He said the state had been looking forward to the moment, with all of the five districts hit by the hurricane ready to be back open and with students in school.
“Without you, it doesn’t happen,” Diaz told teachers at the event, thanking them. “It’s so important to be here today. Gov. DeSantis understands that the most important thing in our schools is the teachers in front of our students. His investment, his leadership in investing over $2 billion the last three years directly to teachers, is a sign of that, and understanding how important it is to have our schools open, our kids learning, and trying to get back to normalcy.”
He again praised teachers for their work and the efforts by state leaders to have students in school, congratulating Toledo Blade staff for their work.
DeSantis returned to the podium, listing some educational achievements from Florida schools for reading, early learning and literacy, and other efforts.
“We have more initiatives that I would have announced by now if it weren’t for this dog gone hurricane, putting everything off the calendar, but stay tuned,” DeSantis said. “We’re going to do more in the realm of teacher support, more in the realm of workforce education, more in the realm of early literacy. So thanks everyone for their hard work.”
During a question and answer session afterward, DeSantis spoke with residents who said they had not yet had internet access restored in Englewood. The resident said connection may not be restored for a month, so DeSantis asked someone behind the crowd to see if they could get available Starlink internet service over to help.
Elon Musk, the SpaceX and Tesla CEO, had provided Starlink internet connection satellites in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian to help residents get connected to access aid opportunities. He said they would be in touch with the county to help provide connection, including at Toledo Blade Elementary, if needed.
Before leaving, DeSantis briefly weighed in on the use of Starlink in Ukraine, following Russia’s invasion, saying that federal officials had “attacked” Musk over charging for Starlink in Ukraine going forward.