Today, Governor Ron DeSantis highlighted the efforts his administration has taken on behalf of Floridians over the past year.
Fostering a Nation-Leading Economy
In 2022, Florida's unemployment rate continued to decline, dropping to a low of 2.6 percent in November -- the lowest among the nation's top ten largest states and 1.1 percent lower than the nation's. November marks two consecutive years (24 straight months) that Florida's unemployment rate has remained below the nation's. Florida also continued to exceed the national job growth rate for the 20th consecutive month in November 2022.
Florida's labor force grew by 352,000, or 3.4 percent, over the year, more than double the national labor force growth rate of 1.5 percent over the same time period.
Through the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, this year, more than $66 million has been awarded to 22 communities and educational institutions for this purpose, which is projected to create more than 19,000 jobs and training opportunities for Floridians over the next 10 years.
In 2022, the Rural Infrastructure Fund (RIF) awarded more than $13 million to 27 rural communities in Florida to help facilitate the planning, preparing, and financing of infrastructure projects in rural communities that encourage job creation, capital investment, and the strengthening and diversification of rural economies.
To build on this progress and provide relief from the Biden administration's policies, the Freedom First Budget provided $1.24 billion in tax relief to Floridians, including a gas tax holiday that lowered the price of gas in Florida by 25.3 cents and saved Floridians $200 million and a sales tax holiday on diapers and baby clothes for one year, providing $120 million in tax relief.
Hurricane Response and Recovery
In 2022, Florida deployed a record response to Hurricane Ian in Southwest Florida, provided immediate support after Hurricane Nicole, and continued to spearhead recovery from previous storms that impacted the Sunshine State.
First responders from across the state and nation deployed to Southwest Florida following Hurricane Ian. Law Enforcement, Fire Rescue, and Search and Rescue (SAR) operations rescued and evacuated over 2,000 residents in impacted areas. During the course of the activation, state-led air support clocked over 457 flight hours while conducting evacuations and providing supplies to critical areas.
Within two days of landfall, over 43,000 utility restoration personnel were responding in Florida, with over 30 states providing support. Thanks to the continuous work of these restoration personnel, over 2 million utility accounts had power within four days of landfall.
The Florida Department of Transportation restored access to Pine Island in less than three days and emergency repairs to the Sanibel Causeway were completed in just 15 days.
Within 48 hours after landfall, 20 Points of Distribution (PODs) were operational, with another eight coming online within 72 hours. These PODs distributed over 51 million bottles of water, 14 million meals, and 308,000 bags of ice.
Hurricane Nicole made landfall as a Category 1 storm in Indian River County and traveled up the peninsula and through the Florida Panhandle before exiting into Georgia. This event brought widespread coastal erosion on the East Coast, resulting in damage or degradation to many structures near the water and causing an estimated $213,652,220 in damages. The response to the impacts of Nicole were made more complex by the ongoing Ian recovery efforts, as responders were still operating in the field and many structures remained vulnerable. Over 8,500 hot meals were served during this event and shelters supported survivors displaced from their homes. Response and recovery efforts continue in the affected areas.
This year, Governor DeSantis reaffirmed Florida's commitment to Hurricane Michael recovery through more than $222 million awarded to impacted communities through DEO's Rebuild Florida program. This funding is in addition to $217 million in mitigation funding awarded to Hurricane Michael Communities.
Florida Continues to Be the Education State and 2022 Was the Year of the Parent
With Governor Ron DeSantis' leadership, Florida's education system has soared to new heights, and has solidified Florida as the Education State.
This year's accomplishments include record funding for students, teacher pay, school safety, and mental health, achieving the highest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) rankings in Florida's history, becoming the #1 ranked state in education freedom, continuing to secure the title of #1 higher education system in the nation, and implementing multiple groundbreaking laws and rules to uphold and expand parental rights and support veterans.
Protecting Parents' Fundamental Rights
Governor DeSantis signed House Bill 1557, Parental Rights in Education, which reinforces parents' rights to make decisions regarding the upbringing of their children and prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through 3rd grade.
The rights of parents to be informed of and make decisions about what library and instructional materials their children are exposed to in school was enhanced and elevated with the enactment of House Bill 1467.
Governor DeSantis also signed House Bill 7, which includes provisions to prevent discriminatory instruction in K-20 public schools, ensures Florida's students are not subject to Critical Race Theory indoctrination, and defines individual freedoms based on the fundamental truth that all individuals are equal before the law and have inalienable rights.
For the second consecutive year, Florida was named Number 1 for "Parent Power" by the Center for Education Reform, which measures the extent to which states have policies that put students first, value the unique needs of every family, and empower parents to oversee their child's education.
The Heritage Foundation ranked Florida as Number 1 in "Education Freedom" for issues including education choice, regulatory freedom, academic transparency, and return on investment.
Investing in Florida's Students and Teachers
In June, Governor DeSantis signed the Freedom First Budget which devoted $29 billion for PreK-20 education in the 2022-2023 school year.
The state invested a record $800 million, an increase of $250 million, to continue raising the teacher minimum base salary, as well as salary increases for veteran teachers and other eligible instructional personnel. Since 2020, Florida has committed more than $2 billion to increase teacher pay.
The 2022-2023 budget raised per-student funding for K-12 to a historic $8,143, which represents a $710 per student increase since the 2018-2019 school year.
Maintaining the #1 Rank for Higher Education
Florida was ranked as the #1 system for higher education in the nation by U.S. News and World Report for the 6th straight year
U.S. News and World Report's 2022-2023 Best Colleges rankings placed the University of Florida (UF) and Florida State University (FSU) among the top 20 public universities in the country.
With the signing of Senate Bill 7044, Governor DeSantis reformed higher education in Florida by enacting accountability for tenure, adding transparency requirements for tuition and fees, aligning general education courses, and transforming the accreditation process.
Promoting Student Achievement
Florida became the first state in the nation to fully transition to progress monitoring-based school accountability with the signing of Senate Bill 1048. The move officially replaces the Florida Standards Assessment with progress monitoring to measure students' growth and provide information to students, parents, and educators in a more timely and actionable manner.
The results of the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) demonstrated once again that keeping children in school throughout 2020 and 2021 has put Florida students well ahead of their peers, especially with younger and educationally at-risk students who were harmed the most from distance-learning in other states.
In 2022, Florida's 4th and 8th grade students earned the state's highest ever NAEP rankings in both reading and mathematics. When adjusted for demographics, Florida's 4th grade students were the best in the nation.
Florida also demonstrated historic progress toward closing achievement gaps with the nation's narrowest gap between Hispanic and white students in Grade 8 reading and the narrowest gap between students with and without disabilities in all grades and subjects.
In Harvard University's May 2022 report, "Student Development Harmed Much Less in States with Open Schools During COVID", the report found that Florida's approach to keeping schools open paid off for Florida's students:
"Harvard study says that gaps in "math achievement by race and school poverty' didn't widen in school districts in states like Florida and Texas that mostly kept schools open."
"Interestingly, gaps in math achievement by race and school poverty did not widen in school districts in states such as Texas and Florida and elsewhere that remained largely in-person. Where schools remained in-person, gaps did not widen. Where schools shifted to remote learning, gaps widened sharply. Shifting to remote instruction was like turning a switch on a critical piece of our social infrastructure that we had taken for granted."
"A recent left-dominated MSNBC panel even begrudgingly admitted that Florida has emerged pretty well from the pandemic."
Becoming the #1 State in the Nation for Workforce Education by 2030
To date, Governor DeSantis has committed more than $5 billion to workforce education since 2019, and according to Lightcast's November 2022 annual Talent Attraction Scorecard, Florida ranks #1 in the nation for attracting and developing a skilled workforce. Postsecondary enrollment has increased by 12% with more than 380,000 students currently enrolled and a record 772,000 students enrolled in high school Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs.
Florida's education system became the number one in the world for entrepreneurship education and training, with more than 20,000 students earning an industry certification in Entrepreneurship and Small Business (ESB), mostly since 2020.
Over $125 million was secured for nursing education to support the future workforce which will serve the complex health care needs of our communities.
$100 million to establish the Prepping Institutions, Programs, Employers, and Learners through Incentives for Nursing Education (PIPELINE) program to financially reward colleges and universities for their nursing education programs, based on student success.
$25 million to establish the Linking Industry to Nursing Education (LINE) fund for schools to work toward combating the shortage of nursing instructors by recruiting faculty and clinical preceptors for nursing programs with funds matched dollar-for-dollar by community health care partners.
In September, Governor DeSantis announced that nearly $30 million will be dedicated to support workforce development in the Space Coast region as part of a groundbreaking, multi-agency initiative to support competitive industries in the area. The Department of Economic Opportunity, the Department of Education, CareerSource Florida, Enterprise Florida and Space Florida have partnered in this initiative to identify high demand industries and match them with workforce education opportunities in the Space Coast region. Industries that will benefit from these investments include aviation and aerospace, defense, manufacturing, and cybersecurity and information technology.
In September, Governor DeSantis announced a major expansion of Florida's Commercial Driver's License (CDL) training as well as the creation of new opportunities for apprenticeships in Florida. Prior to 2019, there were fewer than 1,000 students a year enrolled in CDL training programs, and with this expansion, state institutions will have the capacity to train more than 3,500 students every year.
Creating Resilient Students
First Lady Casey DeSantis proposed, and the State Board of Education unanimously approved, a groundbreaking shift in how Florida supports the health and wellbeing of its students. Florida cemented the first in the nation approach to reframe and rethink the way mental health is taught in schools, shifting from the traditional, stigma-laden mental health education model to an empowering new model based on resiliency.
Developing Active and Informed Citizens
The Florida Civics and Debate Initiative expanded civics education and competitive debate opportunities to 237 schools across 45 school districts and is on pace to reach more than 400 schools and every Florida district through the 2022-23 school year. Hundreds of students from across the nation convened in Orlando to compete in The Great Debate, the second annual National Civics and Debate Championship hosted by the Florida Civics and Debate Initiative.
The 2022 Summer Civics Professional Learning Series offered ten, three-day professional development sessions for teachers, in preparation for Florida's revised civics and government standards. Participating educators gave overwhelmingly positive feedback, saying the summer learning sessions enhanced their civics content knowledge and the program's presenters modeled effective teaching strategies.
Florida observed the first statewide recognition of Victims of Communism Day in schools as established in House Bill 395.
DOE hired 24 civic literacy coaches and captains to support districts and schools throughout the state implement high-quality civics instruction on a regional basis as part of Governor DeSantis' Civic Literacy Excellence Initiative that is paving the way for Florida to become the nation's leader in civics education.
Protecting Kids and Ensuring Parental Rights from Agendas Pushed by WOKE Ideologists
Governor DeSantis and state agencies continued to reinforce parents' fundamental rights to make decisions regarding the upbringing of their children. Building on the Parents' Bill of Rights, Governor DeSantis signed a bill that prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through 3rd grade, and prohibits instruction that is not age appropriate for students and requires school districts to adopt procedures for notifying parents if there is a change in services from the school regarding a child's mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being.
In April, the Florida Department of Health issued guidance on the treatment of gender dysphoria for children and adolescents to ensure that Floridians are aware of the long-term, irreversible effects of clinical care promoted by the US Department of Health and Human Services.
In June, the Agency for Health Care Administration issued a report based on its research and analysis which recommended against covering sex reassignment treatments as reimbursable health services because they are not consistent with generally accepted professional medical standards and are experimentational and investigational. The FDA found these "treatments" may cause irreversible damage and severe long-term health issues, including brain aneurisms.
Safeguarding the Right to Life in Florida and Supporting New and Existing Families
In Florida, we know that we are better when everybody counts. In April, Governor DeSantis signed the Reducing Fetal and Infant Mortality Act, to protect the lives of Florida's most vulnerable by prohibiting all abortions after 15 weeks of gestation, the most significant protections for life in Florida history.
The Agency for Health Care Administration performed visits to all licensed abortion clinics in Florida to ensure that they were in compliance with Florida law and following safe protocols when providing health services to women, upholding abortion clinics to the same standards as all other licensed health care facilities in the state. These visits resulted in The Agency issuing Emergency Suspension Orders to those not following the law and compromising patients' safety.
To ensure moms and dads are equipped with tools to support their families following birth, Governor DeSantis signed the largest tax relief package in the state's history, including a one year holiday on diapers, a one year holiday on baby and toddler clothes and shoes, and a three month holiday for children's books.
In April, Governor DeSantis signed groundbreaking legislation to support involved fatherhood in Florida. Education programs, mentorship programs, and one-on-one support are available to encourage responsible and involved fatherhood. Additionally, $70 million was allocated to provide a wide spectrum of family and youth support through state agency collaboration.
The Department of Children and Families continues to implement First Lady Casey DeSantis' Hope Florida -- A Pathway to Prosperity initiative, expanded this year to enhance the comprehensive network of support for Floridians across the state. This year, the Hope Florida initiative was expanded to foster and adoptive families with dedicated Care Navigators to meet their immediate and future needs.
Ensuring Comprehensive Cancer Care
In March, Governor DeSantis shared that after going through both treatment and surgery for breast cancer, First Lady Casey DeSantis is cancer free, thanking those who supported their family and issuing hope for those battling this disease.
To support cancer centers across the state, Governor and First Lady Casey DeSantis dedicated a record $100 million for cancer research and care in Florida's 2022- 2023 budget, an increase of $37 million, or nearly 60%, over prior year funding.
Spearheaded by First Lady Casey DeSantis, the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Health collaborated to launch Florida Cancer Connect, an initiative that focuses on providing information on cancer treatment, caregiver tools, and stories from brave Floridians who have fought this disease on one centralized website. Floridians can use this cohesive tool to access a centralized resource of trusted information from local medical practitioners to help themselves and their families make informed decisions when it matters most.
Ending Substance Use Disorder and Overdose
In July, Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo joined First Lady Casey DeSantis at a round table to announce a statewide advisory on the dangers of fentanyl, now the leading cause of death in the United States for those 18-45 years old. Following this, Florida unveiled its historic steps to fight overdoses from Substance Use Disorder and disrupt the opioid epidemic.
The Florida Department of Health, Department of Children and Families, and Agency for Health Care Administration have partnered to implement a network of addiction care, Coordinated Opioid Recovery Network (CORE), the first of its kind in the United States. This places Florida as a leader in sustainable addiction and opioid recovery. CORE has been implemented in 12 counties (Brevard, Clay, Escambia, Gulf, Marion, Pasco, Volusia, Citrus, Duval, Flagler, Manatee, and Pinellas) this year and will continue to bring additional counties into CORE in phases.
This comprehensive approach from care and peer navigators directly within an emergency department, to sustainable overall health care, expands every aspect of overdose response and treats all primary and secondary impacts of substance use disorder. The network does not solely depend on emergency response for overdoses and Substance Use Disorder. It ensures patients are stabilized and treated for coexisting medical and mental health conditions through dental care, primary care, psychiatric evaluation, maternal care, and social support services. Social support services can address career training, housing, or food insecurity.
The Department of Health has continued its efforts with the Department of Children and Families to ensure that our first responders have access to naloxone, also known as Narcan, through the Helping Emergency Responders Obtain Support (HEROS) program. Florida has also worked to provide naloxone at the county health departments throughout the state.
Data-Driven Response to COVID-19
Governor DeSantis began 2022 ensuring Floridians were able to access treatment for COVID-19. When the Biden Administration chose to pause the distribution of life-saving monoclonal antibodies, the state sprang into action to ensure our first in the nation, statewide monoclonal distribution sites were equipped to distribute this treatment to those who needed it. Florida understands that early treatment saves lives.
In February, the Surgeon General joined Governor DeSantis to announce significant changes to Florida's COVID-19 guidance including pushing back on unscientific corporate masking, reducing isolation for all Floridians including those in schools and daycares, and recommending that physicians should exercise their individual clinical judgement and expertise based on their patients' needs and preferences. This guidance ensured that Floridians could live freely and that the State was following science, not Dr. Fauci.
Governor DeSantis and the Florida Department of Health continue to exhaust all efforts to protect those at highest risk for COVID-19, while realistically assessing vaccine safety and precautionary measures by establishing the new Public Health Integrity Committee.
The committee will be overseen by the State Surgeon General to assess federal public health recommendations and guidance to ensure that Florida's public health policies are tailored for Florida's communities and priorities.
The state also successfully filed a petition for a Statewide Grand Jury to investigate crimes and wrongdoing committed against Floridians related to the COVID-19 vaccine. The pharmaceutical industry and the FDA have refused to release patient-level data for independent researchers. The state will lead further surveillance into sudden deaths of individuals that received the COVID-19 vaccine in Florida, based on autopsy results, collaborating with the University of Florida to compare research with studies done in other countries.
Empowering Patients and Ensuring Individual Freedoms
In April, Governor DeSantis signed the No Patient Left Alone Act, to guarantee Florida families the fundamental right to visit their loved ones who are receiving care in hospitals, hospices, and long-term care facilities. No health care facility in Florida may require a vaccine as a condition of visitation and every health care facility must allow their residents and patients to be hugged by their loved ones.
Additionally, the Governor's Freedom First Budget invested nearly $4 million to increase transparency in prescription drug prices. The funds support the modernization of Florida's prescription drug price transparency website known as MyFloridaRx and additional analysis of Medicaid pharmacy claims for potential fraud, waste, and abuse.
Ensuring Cost-Effective Care through Transparency in Health Care and Prescription Drug Prices
Under the leadership of Governor DeSantis, the Agency for Health Care Administration is marshalling efforts to increase access to essential medications for vulnerable Floridians while also saving taxpayer dollars through the Canadian Prescription Drug Importation Program.
In July, Governor DeSantis issued Executive Order 22-164 to provide meaningful reforms to state agency contracts with Pharmacy Benefit Managers and directed the Agency to implement provisions in the Freedom First Budget to directly negotiate prices for prescriptions drugs ineligible for importation, including insulin and epinephrine. This will reinforce the demand for Florida's Canadian Prescription Drug Importation Program and provide another avenue to impact the price Floridians pay for prescription drugs.
Investments in our Heroes
Governor DeSantis' Freedom First Budget made record investments for First Responders in Florida, including $1,000 bonuses to local government first responders and $5,000 bonuses to any newly certified and relocated law enforcement officers coming to Florida. Florida has awarded more than 600 $5,000 bonuses to Law Enforcement Officers who are new to the profession in the Sunshine State.
Governor DeSantis created an innovative Military Veterans Certification Pathway (Senate Bill 896) to help veterans begin careers in education by allowing their military service to count toward the requirement for a temporary educator certificate under the mentorship of a certified teacher. To date, more than 500 veterans have applied to take advantage of this pathway.
In June 2022, Florida Launched the Hometown Heroes Housing program to help eligible frontline community workers such as law enforcement officers, firefighters, educators, healthcare professionals, and active military or veterans purchase a home in Florida.
To date, the Hometown Heroes program has provided 3,145 homeowners with more than $46 million in first mortgage down payment and closing cost assistance, thereby supporting more than $905 million in home loan transactions.
Governor Has Secured Over $3.3 Billion in Funding for Everglades Restoration and Protection of Water Resources Since Fiscal Year 2019-20
The Fiscal Year 2022-23 budget includes more than $1.2 billion for Everglades restoration and the protection of water resources. This includes, but is not limited to:
More than $500 million for Everglades restoration projects.
$125 million for the wastewater grant program for projects to construct, upgrade, or expand wastewater facilities, to provide advanced water treatment, and to convert from septic to sewer.
$50 million in alternative water supply funding for 33 projects stretching from the Panhandle to Palm Beach, which, once fully online, will create more than 36 million gallons of potable water each day.
Nearly $31 million to combat harmful algal blooms and red tide, including funding for innovative technology projects to support water quality improvements throughout the state.
More than $22 million to support seven priority water quality and nutrient reduction projects in Biscayne Bay through the Biscayne Bay Water Quality Improvement Grant Program
The FY 2022-23 budget brought the four-year total for Everglades and water quality protection funding to more than $3.3 billion, surpassing the goal of $2.5 billion and more than doubling the investment made in the previous four years.
As a result of this unprecedented investment, more than 50 Everglades restoration projects have broken ground, achieved a major milestone, or finished construction since 2019.
As a result of these projects, record water volumes are being sent south thanks to the operations of infrastructure to hydrate the Everglades, resulting in Florida Bay reaching salinity goals for the first time in decades.
We have also significantly reduced harmful discharges and are sending more clean water south to Everglades National Park than ever before.
In 2022, $75 million in state grant funding was awarded for 30 projects, including continued support for 13 legacy projects and 12 new projects. These initiatives are primarily focused on wastewater treatment improvements, including septic-to-sewer projects and land acquisition/conservation easements.
More than $1.1 billion has been directed to enhancing the resilience of natural and built infrastructure across Florida since 2019. The FY 2022-23 budget includes $270 million to fund the entire Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience Plan for the first three years. In total, 76 projects are funded.
Historic Investments in Infrastructure
The signing of Governor DeSantis' Freedom First Budget in June made record investments in Florida's transportation infrastructure. The historic $12.6 billion in funding for statewide transportation projects for FDOT's current five-year work plan reaffirmed Florida as an innovative leader in transportation. Strategic investments were emphasized, including $4.4 billion for highway construction to include 180 new lane miles, $1.2 billion in resurfacing to include 2,690 lane miles, $236.6 million for bridge maintenance repairs and replacements, $135.9 million in seaport infrastructure enhancements, $314.5 million for aviation improvements, $867 million for rail and transit program advancements, and $160.1 million for safety initiatives.
To assist Floridians with continued increases in the cost of living, the SunPass Savings Program was launched in September under the leadership of Governor DeSantis. The toll discount program served customers who use Florida's Turnpike System and toll facilities owned by FDOT. This incentive program provided financial relief to SunPass commuters by providing credits to customers who met the threshold of qualifying transponder transactions per month. As Governor DeSantis promised to continue seeking out ways to provide cost of living relief for Florida's families, he signed the Toll Relief Program bill in December to further benefit Floridians who frequently commute on these roadways. The program will be active throughout 2023 and is slated to benefit approximately 1.2 million Floridians with average savings of nearly $400 per commuter in the calendar year.
Throughout the year, numerous projects to improve safety and enhance mobility were completed statewide across all Florida regions, reaffirming FDOT's focus on customers and communities. Innovative designs were introduced, such as diverging diamond interchanges, a unique design wherein the two directions of traffic briefly drive on the opposite sides of the road which results in increased safety, enhanced efficacy of moving higher volume of traffic, and reduced congestion. Other projects included introduction of ramp signals on key interchanges, establishing new managed lanes, implementation of new connector ramps, and completion of many resurfacing projects. FDOT teams continued to test new materials, high-tech resources, and design elements throughout the year, and introduced many of these in current projects.
Protecting Floridians from Foreign Countries of Concern
At the direction of Governor DeSantis, the Department of Management Services (DMS) has established security standards for all Florida governmental entities using unmanned aerials systems (drones) for official business which protects Floridians from malign actors.
Following Governor DeSantis' Executive Order 22-216, DMS has undertaken rule development to further strengthen cybersecurity against foreign countries of concern, including China.
Governor DeSantis has proposed additional legislation to prohibit purchases of agricultural land and land surrounding military bases by foreign countries of concern and has proposed to prohibit any gift to a higher education institution in Florida from any individual residing in or entity domiciled in a foreign country of concern.