Gov. DeSantis signs bills on literacy, early learning

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a pair of education bills into law Tuesday that proponents hope will improve student literacy and early learning programs that prepare children for kindergarten.

One bill signed into law would establish the Division of Early Learning within the state’s Department of Education as part of what the Republican governor said would produce "meaningful improvements to state accountability for early learning programs."

The success rate of so-called "voluntary pre-kindergarten" programs had been under scrutiny because of data that shows many children are ill-prepared for kindergarten.

In fact, nearly 2,200 VPK providers — about a third of all such providers — were on probation because they did not meet minimum readiness rates, a state analysis showed. Overall, only about half the children they served were ready for kindergarten, according to testing data that took stock of their skills in such areas as math, literacy and critical thinking.

RELATED: Pinellas County rescinds mask mandate following DeSantis' executive order

"We need to do better than that," the governor said. "Thousands of Florida families rely on our voluntary pre-K system to prepare their children to be ready for kindergarten. This legislation for accountability will turn the tide for these families and their students, and they will make them more prepared than ever to enter kindergarten."

DeSantis visited a children’s center in Vero Beach and later a middle school in Miami for bill-signing ceremonies.

The new law, which was passed with bipartisan support in both legislative chambers, would raise the bar on training for prekindergarten teachers.

MORE: Gov. DeSantis signs bill banning vaccine passports; suspends COVID-19 local emergency orders

To assess development earlier, the law would allow state officials to test children while attending pre-kindergarten programs, many of them run privately.

Rep. Erin Grall, a Republican, had been pushing for the legislation for the past three sessions. "This policy is all about empowering parents and families," she said.

A separate bill signed into the law by the governor Tuesday seeks to reverse a recent slide in student literacy after years of improvement.

The new law would require stricter training standards for teachers in the area of reading and would establish a standardized and statewide monitoring system to assess student progress.

The goal, the governor said, is to have a 90% rate by the end of a decade of third-graders reading at their grade level.