One of only a handful of public appearances in Gulf County since his election in November, State Senator Corey Simon made the most of his 30 minutes of speaking time at the South Gulf County Coastal Community Association’s annual members’ meeting.
There, he discussed his takeaways from the state’s recent legislative session, his first as an elected official.
“We had a great session. I looked at the budget and what we’ve been able to do to help families, to help children, throughout this budget. It’s pretty impressive,” he told the two dozen or so who gathered at the First United Methodist Church on June 24. “And then also some of the bills I had the chance to run and pass, which I think will be huge contributing factors to the success of this state and of this district quite honestly and to seeing some resources returned back to this district.”
A large portion of the senator’s time was spent discussing education measures, as he served as the chair of the senate’s education committee.
He discussed increased funding for career and technical education programs, aimed at increasing awareness of these options among younger students, and a universal school choice bill, which he said he holds as some of his greatest accomplishments from this year’s session.
Simon sponsored a massive expansion of Florida’s school-choice programs to make all students eligible for taxpayer-backed vouchers to allow them to attend private schools, along with other measures.
This includes a tiered “priority” system for students to receive vouchers. Students whose household incomes are less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level, or roughly $51,000 for a family of four, would get first priority. Next would be students whose family incomes are from 185 percent of the poverty level to 400 percent of the poverty level, which is about $111,000 for a family of four.
The measure passed along party lines in the state legislature, with vocal opponents expressing concerns it could worsen school segregation along socioeconomic lines.
In a question-and-answer session following his discussion, Simon was asked about erosion concerns along Cape San Blas, an issue that his predecessor, Loranne Ausley, spent a lot of time discussing.
“I’m a homeowner on Cape San Blas… I’m glad to hear you talk about infrastructure in rural areas. There are concerns out there that have to do with access to the cape and what might happen if we get another big storm through there,” said one constituent.
In response, Simon pointed to an ongoing project aimed at installing breakwater structures in areas of concern to slow erosion, which received state funding in 2022.
“DEP has spoken with the county, and there is some information that DEP is still waiting on the county to return,” the senator said.
MID-TEXT SUBHEAD: Environmental groups, concerns take center stage
Along with erosion, environmental programs and concerns took center stage at this year’s CCA meeting.
The meeting featured informational booths for five different environmental groups working in and around Gulf County, a first for the CCA and a decision that was made to highlight these groups’ work.
Present were representatives from the Friends of St. Joseph Buffer Preserves, the St. Joseph and St. Andrews Bays Estuary Program, the Dark Sky initiative, Florida DEP and Florida State Parks.
“Good things are happening,” said CCA President at Hardman. “Look at all the positive things happening over here with these folks. Look at what they’re doing and get involved with them.”
Invited to speak to those gathered, Jessica Graham with the St. Joseph and St. Andrews Bays Estuaries Program spoke of the group’s work alongside other local organizations, researching methods of protecting and restoring local aquatic ecosystems.
Following the meeting, CCA members browsed the different organizations’ booths, discussing volunteer opportunities and the organizations’ work.