Legislative Bill That Originated in Brevard Makes JROTC Career Pathway for First Time
By Space Coast Daily // July 4, 2020
Susin, Sirois, Wright Spearhead Effort
“JROTC is a tremendous opportunity to learn how to serve your nation”
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – A bill that originated in Brevard making JROTC a career pathway for the first time was signed by Florida Governor Desantis recently, benefitting Brevard County’s 14 public high schools that feature Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps units that include 2,147 students.
Brevard County can boast the highest number of ROTC cadet/student ratio in the state of Florida for a school district and Merritt Island High School is the number one school in the state, and number seven in the nation, for military recruiting.
Florida schools have an estimated 4,000 JROTC instructors, all of whom are retired from military service, who teach approximately 314,000 JROTC cadets every year.
Before the bill became law this year, some ROTC students had to drop out of or not take ROTC because it was not identified by the department of education as a career pathway, which decimated student’s dreams of military service and scholarships.
Secondary Deputy Superintendent Stephanie Soliven proposed legislation to Brevard Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Mullins and the school board that would make ROTC a career pathway for graduation.
Florida State Representative Tyler Sirois and Florida Senator Tom Wright enthusiastically agreed to sponsor the bill.
“Students who choose a path of military service should be recognized for their achievement, and our school grading criteria should honor their bravery, commitment and academic work,” said Sirois.
“The military provides occupational training and discipline, deeply rooted in tradition. College is not the best choice for every child. Just as we have expanded options for students to participate in vocational and technical training, we now recognize students who choose the honorable path of military service.”
This seemed like an extremely easy and well-supported bill until opposition from other career pathway groups started and ultimately almost stopped it in its tracks in the House of Representatives.
The bill was moving through the legislature until it came to the full education committee.
Susin Makes the Case
Brevard Public Schools Board Vice Chairman Matt Susin, who was in the capital advocating for Pre-K teachers, was called by Deputy Superintendent of Communications Matt Reed and Representative Sirois to help testify and support the bill.
“I received a call saying it would help if I went down to the committee and spoke on the bill,” said Susin. “Little did I know that, once again, a great bill would be in trouble because of special interest groups.”
Susin was referring to the last bill he worked on, the “All American Flag Act,” which started in his classroom and his students fought for three years before it was approved, requiring all flags in government buildings to be made in the United States with fibers grown on U.S. soil.
“Representative Sirois led off the committee with a great speech, and then I noticed a lot of unnecessary back and forth comments and figured something was wrong,” said Susin.
What normally should have been a two-minute testimony turned into a 13-minute interchange for Susin, and citing the leadership, physical fitness and social-emotional strength ROTC gives his students, the bill ultimately was passed the committee.
“It was a close call – and I been here before,” said Susin. “I knew if I didn’t mobilize support for our legislators this bill may not become law.”
Susin drove back to Brevard that night and called a meeting with various groups the next morning to rally support for Senator Wright and Representative Sirois.
“I got a call from Matt late at night asking me to help, and after he filled me in, I assembled a large group of our organizations to include the VFW’s and American Legion Posts to kick into gear,” said Don Pearsall, Chairman of the Veterans Memorial Center.
Don Weaver received a call from Susin, who then organized the Military Officers of America Cape Canaveral Chapter at the Indian River Colony Club the next day for support by emailing and calling legislators.
Rick Lacey, the head of the Brevard Republican Committee said he also got a call the same day.
“Matt asked if he could speak at the meeting,” said Lacey. “He had everyone in the room standing at attention saluting in support saying that we had to support Representative Sirois and Senator Wright’s bill and support our military.”
Bill Took Effect July 1
Almost every military and veteran-supporting civic organization was mobilized in support and began to make phone calls and email legislators to support the bill.
“This bill is a great example of multiple elected bodies of government working together for their community,” said Susin. “Our school board has a great relationship with our legislators, and we are so proud of their amazing support.”
Governor Desantis signed the bill into law on June 23 and now ROTC is considered a career pathway the same as any trades program, or college prep program. The bill will take effect on July 1.
This change in the law will allow more students to join ROTC as a possible career and ensure that our military has the support it needs to defend our freedom.
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