TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Gov. Ron DeSantis says Florida will use nearly $1 billion in federal CARES Act funds to help schools reopen at full capacity in August, as educators say every penny counts in order to do so safely.
Special-needs teacher Peggy Sue Sternad, president of Gilchrist Employees United, says schools will need additional personnel and supplies beyond papers, books and pencils.
There are additional costs for disposable masks, gloves and disinfectants, and Sternad says all of those needs will multiply for children with special needs going back to the classroom.
"It costs so much money for these children now, so what are we truly looking at and what are they going to do to really help with those needs," she states.
DeSantis says schools will have 12 options for spending the money they receive, including funds for buying cleaning supplies and using them on mental health support services. The plan also includes recommendations for keeping students apart in classrooms to reduce the possible spread of COVID-19.
Fred Ingram, president of the Florida Education Association, is calling on U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott to urge passage of the HEROES Act, which is a stimulus package that also would provide additional support to schools.
Ingram says the governor's plan isn't adequate.
"We do not think that is going to be enough money, simply because our state has underfunded our schools for so many years," he states. "We have to think about not only programmatic ideas, those classes, programs that kids want and need -- band, art, drama, dance, sports programs -- but also science labs."
Linda Mincey, special needs kindergarten teacher and president of Washington County Education Association, says she is worried about the lack of support for rural children, currently sitting at home without essential tools.
"Some of our students are so rural that it's hard to get Internet access," she points out. "I guess what I'm saying is funding for everyone to have a chance."
The governor's plan does include $64 million in flexible funds for summer programs to help boost literacy instruction in kindergarten through fifth grade to help close achievement gaps resulting from the pandemic.
With safety being a top concern, Sternad says parents and teachers need to be at the table to help make decisions on the local level on whether a school is actually ready to open.
"They really need to talk to us," she stresses. "They really need to talk to someone that lives it every day so that they can truly see the needs and help us."
According to the governor's plan, all reopening steps would include provisions for students, staff and faculty to follow health and safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.