Gov. Ron DeSantis is awarding $200 million in School Recognition Awards to 1,400 public schools for their performance during the 2021-22 school year.
Eligible schools received a school grade of “A” or improved one letter grade from the prior year. Schools can use the funds for nonrecurring faculty and staff bonuses, nonrecurring expenditures on educational equipment and materials, or temporary personnel to assist in maintaining or improving student performance.
In Clay County, 18 schools achieved “A” grades, while Montclair Elementary improved by one grade level.
“We trust the schools will make the good decisions, but it’s really important that when you have the success that that is recognized, and that’s what these awards are doing,” DeSantis told reporters Monday.
The School Recognition Program became a political battleground during the 2022 Legislative Session when lawmakers attempted to limit the awards to schools in the 55 school districts that did not impose mask mandates that violated state policy. That was the compromise to the “Putting Parents First Adjustment” plan first promoted by Brevard County Republican Rep. Randy Fine, but DeSantis overrode the proposal, stating his desire to hold district administrators accountable, not schools.
“As Governor, I direct the Department of Education to implement the Florida School Recognition Program consistent with the reading of the language, which is to reward eligible schools for their achievements, as districts’ actions have no bearing on a school’s eligibility,” DeSantis wrote in a letter to Education Commissioner Manny Díaz.
DeSantis presented the awards at Toledo Blade Elementary School in North Port, located in Sarasota County. The announcement comes less than three weeks after Hurricane Ian struck Southwest Florida. Most schools have restarted classes, while the remainder is set to return this week.
“This award was earned by schools like Toledo Blade Elementary before Ian hit, of course. But now that you’re dealing with what we’re dealing with, this may come in handy to help assist in some of those areas as well,” DeSantis said.
In Collier County, 38 schools received $5 million; in Lee County, 27 schools received $3.6 million; in Sarasota County, 24 schools received $3.8 million; in Charlotte County, six schools received $600,000; and one school, Bowling Green Elementary, received $54,000 in Hardee County.
Díaz praised the Governor for what he said was an understanding of the importance of teachers, and he highlighted recent pay raises and bonuses for teachers DeSantis has helped usher in.
“His investment, his leadership and 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,” Díaz said.
The Governor, who is up for re-election in just over three weeks, teased upcoming proposals for teacher support, workforce education and early literacy.
“We have more initiatives that I would have announced by now if it weren’t for this doggone hurricane putting everything off the calendar, but stay tuned,” he said.
Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.