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The state legislature scored a win for Florida kids this session

Aakash Patel

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It’s long been clear that children living in poverty have a tougher time reaching their full potential in the classroom. We are fortunate in Florida that business leaders and state lawmakers are working together in a coordinated approach to reduce poverty and ensure that every child has an equal opportunity to succeed in school and in life.

The Florida Legislature approved several bills this spring that are aimed at helping families rise out of poverty, students improve their reading skills, and government provide quality services to foster upward mobility. These initiatives reflect the priorities set by the Florida Chamber of Commerce as it focuses on addressing the root causes of generational poverty.

As chair of the board of directors of the Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County, I know first-hand about the importance of empowering families and providing early learning resources so children are prepared to succeed in school. Building that solid foundation early is vital to ensuring young Floridians have equal access to economic opportunity when they enter the workforce as young adults.

Credit the Florida Chamber for highlighting the need to address generational poverty and for emphasizing the connection between reducing poverty and improving education. The Chamber Foundation’s goal is to cut childhood poverty in half by 2030.

Its blueprint for Florida’s Future – Florida 2030 – also sets goals for 2030 for every level of learning, including that all children are ready for kindergarten and read at or above grade level in the third and eighth grades.

State legislators have sent several bills to the governor that are aimed at helping meet those ambitious goals. Two of them already have been signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis. They will:

  • Phase in a new voluntary pre-kindergarten accountability system to help better inform parents about the quality of VPK providers. The legislation (HB 419), sponsored by Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, and Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, passed unanimously and creates an accountability system based on factors such as student outcomes, learning gains and observations of child-teacher interactions.
  • Establish a student monitoring system that will help identify reading issues that could be holding students back. The legislation (HB 7011), sponsored by Rep. Vance Aloupis, R-Miami, and Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Doral, passed unanimously and establishes the Reading Achievement Initiative for Scholastic Excellence (RAISE) Program, a system of statewide literacy support that will be provided through regional literacy expert support teams.

A third bill awaiting the governor’s signature would require a review of government benefit programs such as Medicaid that will help lawmakers identify issues within the services that hinder rather than foster upward mobility. The legislation (HB 1349), sponsored by Rep. Vance Aloupis, R-Miami, and Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, passed unanimously.

Reducing generational poverty and its impact on the educational progress of Florida’s most precious resource – our children – is a big challenge. As this legislation reflects, we can meet that challenge by business and government working together in a bipartisan fashion for the common good.

Aakash Patel is the founder and president of Elevate, Inc., a Florida-based strategic business consulting firm providing public relations, community relations, targeted networking and social media. He is chairman of the board of directors of the Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County.

 

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