FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was in Okaloosa County, speaking at Fort Walton Beach High School. DeSantis announced almost 80 schools had earned a Purple Star school certification, meaning they were designated resources for military families and their students.
Before discussing the new initiatives, DeSantis thanked voters in Northwest Florida for their “wave of support” in the November midterm, saying his electoral victory was a “gravity defying margin,” but noting that it was a “free and fair election.”
Turning to the event topic, DeSantis said a great thing about Northwest Florida was the active duty military in the area, naming several local bases. He said while he was grateful for the military community, he wanted to acknowledge there were sometimes difficulties stemming form the military lifestyle.
“When you’re talking about school children making that change, that can be very challenging,” DeSantis said. “A child whose parents are in active duty service will move to a new school six to nine times from the time they enter kindergarten to the time they graduate high school.”
DeSantis said Florida would do what it could to head off those challenges and that he had signed legislation for what’s called a Purple Star Education Program. The governor said that schools which earn this designation must name a faculty member as a military point of contact, and create programs to pair military children with other students to help them transition to the school community and engage in school activities.
Five percent of open enrollment seats for schools must also be reserved for military children, and additional opportunities must be made available to train teachers in special development to serve military students.
“Okaloosa County has the highest percentage of military student enrollment out of any school district in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said. “Over 5,600 children of military service members are enrolled in Okaloosa schools. So I’m happy to announce today that 35 schools in Okaloosa County will be designated as Purple Star schools.”
DeSantis also announced that 79 other schools across Florida in 10 school districts had earned the Purple Star rating, including in Hillsborough County.
Discussing other education initiatives, DeSantis said that some had criticized state efforts to recruit military veterans as teachers, saying it was “totally wrong” to criticize, and that there had been many applicants.
“In August, we announced that we’re going to have additional legislative proposals in 2023 to help get additional retired first responders and veterans into our classrooms,” DeSantis said. “Including providing bonuses.”
Then DeSantis said he was directing the Florida Department of Education and Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. to develop a new Purple Star School Teacher Leadership program to work with designated schools and allow them to set up their own certification and development programs to train more teachers and recruit veterans and focus on the needs of military families.
“Not only will this program employ veterans, it’ll also allow districts and schools to conduct their own educator professional development and to certify their own teachers,” DeSantis said. He said he was excited for the new initiatives and that he hoped it would be a great success.
Diaz spoke next, thanking the governor for making Florida the most military friendly state in the country, and “The Education State.”
He said the Purple Star designation helped military families have more flexibility to give them support for their education needs and that the military bases had the resources they needed without having to worry about their students. Diaz said the Purple Star program would “dovetail” with the military pathway certification to help veterans seeking teaching degrees to get into the classroom while finishing their educations.
Okaloosa County Schools Superintendent Marcus Chambers spoke after Diaz, congratulating DeSantis for his “overwhelming victory” in the November midterm election.
Then he spoke about how many students in the county were from military families, and that it was the district that was there to support them.
“I remember being a student who would come to a new school and I would say to myself, ‘where am I going to sit?’ During lunch,” Chambers said, referring to his own past. “But our schools are putting programs in place to make students comfortable and make that transition coming in very important.”
Chambers said the programs was about the community, but also about how the military impacts the community in Okaloosa County. He said 92% of the county’s schools were Purple Star schools, and thanked DeSantis again.
During a question and answer session, DeSantis was asked about a potential reaction to recent comments from former President Donald Trump. Rather than address them directly, DeSantis directed reaction to the “corporate media outlets that have a spasm” over what time of day he gets up.
“I don’t think any governor got attacked more, particularly by corporate media, than me over my four year term,” DeSantis said. “I think what you learn is that’s all just noise. Really what matters is are you leading, are you getting in front of issues, are you delivering results for people, and are you standing up for folks.”
He said if people do that, and get results, then the rest doesn’t matter and said to “look at the scoreboard from last Tuesday night” for the truth of it.
“It was the greatest Republican victory in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said. “We swept in super majorities in the state legislature, we have 85 Republicans out of 120 in our state House. We have 28 senators out of 40 that are Republicans. And honestly we could’ve had 29 if they’d done the Osceola one.”
DeSantis also said school boards had turned to Republican candidates, and said that people responding to leadership had helped shift Florida’s U.S. Congressional delegation to 20 Republican lawmakers from last year’s 16. Now, only eight of Florida’s U.S. Congress members are Democrats.
Asked again about the Republican Party and Trump, DeSantis said some of it gets overdone in the media, and that there had been “success stories” across the country, such as Governor Brian Kemp winning in Georgia, but that the losses in other areas were a disappointment.
“There were a lot of disappointments, that’s just the reality, it was a hugely underwhelming, disappointing performance,” DeSantis said. “Especially given Biden’s policies are overwhelmingly unpopular. People think the country’s going in the wrong direction. When that happens, they almost always want to choose to correct that by going, but in a lot of states that didn’t happen.”
DeSantis pointed to Florida as an election blueprint in 2022, comparing it to the narrow margin he’d won the governorship by in 2018.
“We came into a very, very, large diverse swing state, and we led. We were on offense,” DeSantis said. “We didn’t shy away from big issues. We took issues and we won victory after victory for the people of Florida. You know when you had COVID come, I had to stand on the wall and say we wouldn’t let it descend into a Faucian dystopia.”
He said Florida had stood up for people and kept things going, which people appreciated.
“We were bold throughout these whole four years,” DeSantis said. “Everyone knew where I stood, everyone knew what were doing.”
Discussing more of the midterm election results, DeSantis said Republican wins had been “huge swings” and that Florida had shown good policies and leadership went beyond “silos of people who agree with you on everything” and that he had crossed party lines when it came to electoral support in Florida.
“Florida shows you the blueprint of not only what you can do to not only win, but fundamentally change the political terrain in a very strong, pro-freedom direction, and that’s what we’ve done here,” DeSantis said.