DeSantis announces $1,000 bonus for state teachers, principals in Destin Elementary visit

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

DESTIN — With just days left in the current public school year, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis spent part of Wednesday afternoon at Destin Elementary School to tout a state directive issued last year ordering brick-and-mortar public schools to open for the August beginning of the school year in the midst of the ongoing, although lately lessening, coronavirus pandemic.

Greeted by the cheers from teachers and flag-waving young students, DeSantis also announced that the state budget will include a $1,000 bonus for all public school principals and teachers in appreciation for their efforts to keep children learning in classrooms across Okaloosa County and the rest of the state.

More Okaloosa education news:Career and Technical Education program recognizes recent grads in signing ceremony

You may like:Former coach named Destin High School athletic director

"I think people are going to look back and say probably the most important thing we did here (in Florida during the pandemic) was get the kids in school," DeSantis told his audience, which included Destin Elementary School Principal Joe Jannazo, Okaloosa County Schools Superintendent Marcus Chambers and a number of local officials, including members of the local delegation to the state Legislature.

Last summer, after an end to the previous school year that saw students learning digitally from home, state officials reviewed the coronavirus situation before issuing their directive, DeSantis said.

"We understood what the facts were telling us, what the data was telling us," he said.

Parents were given the option of continuing with remote learning for their children, but the vast majority of them opted to send them back to the classroom. At Destin Elementary, more than 90% of students are attending in-person classes.

"It was something that was safe and needed to happen," DeSantis said.

And in retrospect, the governor said people across the country who supported closed schools "are kind of on the defensive."

"We got a lot of blowback for it. There was a lot of scaremongering," said DeSantis, who accused the "corporate media" of pushing for schools to be closed during the pandemic.

Gov. Ron DeSantis shakes hands with Jenna Jannazo during a visit to Destin Elementary School Wednesday where he announced Florida's teachers would be receiving a $1,000 bonus from the state.

In further remarks Wednesday, the governor praised Okaloosa County for its work in keeping schools open.

"I'm so glad and proud that we've had open schools in Florida," he said, telling the Destin Elementary teachers that they "may never have more of an opportunity to make a difference than you did this year."

Three Destin Elementary School teachers also spoke Wednesday, pointing to the advantages of having had their students in in-person classes.

"Here we are, 170 days in and thriving," said second-grade reading teacher Lisa Brown. "This year, more than ever, our students have benefited from this type of instruction. ... As this year draws to an end, I can proudly say that my second-graders are ready for third grade."

Third-grade teacher Amber Wall told DeSantis that she and other teachers "owe you a debt of gratitude for standing up for our students this school year."

Diane Kelly, who is closing out her teaching career at the end of this school year, said she was thankful to have been able to spend the year in person with her students. By attending in-person classes in the midst of the pandemic, "our students learned, they grew and they have done it with their friends," she added.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, center, poses with Destin Elementary School teachers Amber Wall and Lisa Brown, Okaloosa County Commissioner Mel Ponder, Okaloosa County School Board member Diane Kelly and Destin Elementary School Principal Joe Jannazo during a press conference at the school Wednesday where the governor announced that the state's teachers would be receiving a $1,000 bonus.

DeSantis' news conference did not go unnoticed outside Destin Elementary.

Josh Weierbach, executive director of progressive messaging organization Florida Watch, issued a statement noting that “(w)hat Governor Ron DeSantis refuses to mention is that bonuses for our hardworking teachers are only possible thanks to President Joe Biden and the American Rescue Plan. While the governor and Republicans in Tallahassee continually refuse to prioritize public education, the president and Democrats in Congress have their backs.

“Our children, parents, and public education professionals deserve classrooms that meet the needs of our students, but Ron DeSantis refused to spend billions of dollars President Biden provided our state to upgrade these facilities. Every time he has the chance to do what's right, Ron DeSantis always chooses partisan politics over what’s best for the future of our children in Florida.”