Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a $64 million spending plan Thursday aimed at improving the reading skills of Florida’s poorest performing elementary school students, an achievement gap he believes was exacerbated by the statewide school shutdown from the coronavirus outbreak.
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DeSantis also announced a $223 million spending plan that includes using federal money to expand vocational programs at the state’s community colleges, reimburse childcare centers that remained open during the shutdown and assist closed childcare centers with reopening.
You can watch the full announcement in the video below:
The announcements came as the state’s percentage of positive COVID-19 tests continued an upward trend that began Memorial Day, shortly after Florida began reopening.
Standing unmasked and shoulder to shoulder with nine other unmasked officials, DeSantis told a crowd at a Melbourne community center that the reading program will include monthlong summer programs for kindergarten to fifth grade students who have been identified as being poor readers. Money also will be provided to districts to buy supplemental teaching materials for kindergarten to third grade classes and to train 2,000 reading coaches statewide.
The goal is to have 90% of students be proficient readers by 2024, DeSantis said. The state plans to reopen schools this fall with each county school board setting its own schedule and plan for protecting their employees.
“Getting back on our feet in the school year is going to be really, really important for the well-being of our kids, but I also think it is important for a lot of parents who have had to juggle an awful lot,” DeSantis said. He said the state will work with districts to make sure they have sufficient sanitation supplies and personal protective equipment for their teachers and employees.
Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said he believes school reopening can be done safely, saying children and teenagers are “at extremely low-risk” to get sick from the virus or spread it.
“We want schools fully open in the fall because there is no better way to teach our kids,” he said.
As of Thursday, Florida had more than 69,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, a one-day jump of almost 1,700, the highest reported in a single day since the state’s first cases were discovered in early March. The state had almost 2,850 coronavirus-related deaths. While some of the increase in cases is due to expanded testing, the percentage of positive tests has grown from 2.3% two weeks ago to more than 4% this week. That mirrors several other states.
The governor’s press office did not immediately return a phone call and email seeking comment on why DeSantis did not wear a mask or practice social distancing at Thursday’s announcement. For the last three months, DeSantis has worn a mask at public appearances except when speaking. Those who joined him on stage stood at least six-feet (two meters) apart.
Meanwhile, the Amateur Athletic Union announced that this summer’s Junior Olympics for promising young U.S. athletes will be held in the Melbourne areas starting in late July.
Also, two more Florida theme parks, SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, opened Thursday with new restrictions. They had been closed since March.
Reservations are now required to enter the parks in order to limit capacity for social distancing. But SeaWorld Orlando will be closed on Tuesdays and Thursdays and Busch Gardens will be closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for the foreseeable future for sanitizing.
Visitors age 2 and up will be required to wear masks and everyone will have a temperature screening at the parks’ entrances.
The openings of the parks owned by SeaWorld Entertainment come as Florida’s theme parks industry is coming back to life. Universal Orlando Resort reopened last week after being closed since March, and Walt Disney World theme parks will be welcoming back visitors next month.
Bars, movie theaters and other entertainment venues in Florida were allowed to reopen last week with restrictions, and restaurants and shops have been back open for weeks with limits on capacity. Those business re-openings have allowed some workers to go back to work and that was reflected Thursday in a U.S. Department of Labor report that showed more than 110,000 Floridians filed for new jobless claims last week, down from more than 207,000 claims in the previous week.
SeaWorld Entertainment, which operates 12 theme parks across the U.S., said it was losing $25 million a month and was forced to furlough 95% of its workforce with its parks idled. Before the parks closed in March, the company was off to a strong start to 2020 with record-setting attendance and revenue in January and February, according to its quarterly financial report.
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