Stevenson: Improving education is critical to Florida economy


Florida has made significant progress in its efforts to improve the state’s public education system, but more work remains to be done if Sunshine State graduates and businesses are going to compete in a global economy.

That was the message at two recent education summits attended by state Rep. Cyndi Stevenson. In a June 10 meeting at the Ponte Vedra Recorder’s offices, Stevenson provided an update on efforts to ensure that Florida students receive the rigorous academic or career preparation needed to provide good-paying jobs and a strong economy. It’s a topic, Stevenson said, about which all state residents should be concerned.

“I’m cognizant that the rest of the state doesn’t have the same educational opportunities that we have,” said Stevenson, noting that St. Johns County residents have access to the top-rated school system in the state. “It’s not enough just to not mess up here: We have to help the rest of the state meet their needs, because their problems become our problems.”

Given the rapid growth in St. Johns County, however, Stevenson noted that she and Sen. Travis Hutson were instrumental in adding an amendment to the state’s new school choice law specifying that the decision as to whether a school district had the capacity to accept out-of-district students would remain in local hands.

Both the Governor’s Degrees to Jobs conference and the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s From Learners to Earners summit stressed the importance of having a well-prepared workforce in order to keep the state economy strong. Among the projections shared: By 2030, half of all jobs will be related to new technologies.

“The velocity of change is remarkable,” Stevenson said. “Things are moving so fast, it’s difficult for companies to predict what skills and jobs they’re going to need even five years from now.”

What is clear, she added, is that the days of entering the workforce armed only with a high school diploma, working for the same company for 40 years and retiring with a gold watch are over.

“It was amazing to hear that if Florida was the number one state for education, we would be number 15 when compared to other countries,” Stevenson said. “You don’t stop progress – you have to make adjustments.”

To that end, the state has committed to ensuring that all Florida students graduate high school “college ready or career ready,” with the preparation needed to pursue higher education or specialized skills/career training.

“The belief is that, nationally, the jobs are going to go where the talent is,” Stevenson said. “As a state, we’re in a very competitive time for jobs. Whoever becomes the next president, I think you’ll see them pressing to bring jobs and money back to America, and when those jobs come back on shore, I want Florida to be the most prepared state so we get the jobs and have a truly diversified economy.”

Sheriff’s award

Stevenson’s visit with the Recorder came on the same day the legislator was honored by the Florida Sheriff’s Association as a “Legislative Champion.” She received the award for her longtime support of law enforcement and for sponsoring legislation that rectified the unintended effects of previous legislation that had hampered law enforcement’s use and implementation of “no contact” orders.

“I feel it’s my duty to defend the people against bad legislation,” Stevenson said. “I also don’t want to file irresponsible legislation. So when the sheriff’s association came to me and said, ‘This is really important,’ we did it.”