PerspectivesSherry Magill Jacksonville Today Contributor
A girl reads a book after school. | Kristina Barke, for Kaiser Health News

OPINION | Gubernatorial myopia: DeSantis pencils out girls

Published on June 20, 2024 at 7:01 pm
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You may be forgiven if you did not see Gov.Ron DeSantis’ veto of Girl Matters, an innovative community-based intervention program from the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center that successfully keeps vulnerable girls out of Florida’s kid prisons and detention centers.

At $500,000, the request barely registers when it comes to the almost $1 billion in line-item vetoes DeSantis delivered last week. To put a fine point on it, when compared to Florida’s $116.5 billion 2024-25 state budget, this fraction of a penny item might require a magnifying glass to be seen.

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The governor’s strike-through, however, will have an outsized effect on Duval county’s vulnerable girls, as well as on one of our signature and nationally recognized nonprofit organizations.

Why girls matter

Societal well-being, we know, is absolutely dependent upon the health, education, and wellbeing of women. If a community wants its children — boys and girls alike — to be healthy, wealthy, and wise, invest in the healthy development of tomorrow’s mamas. In other words, today’s girls and young women.

It’s the way of the world, like it or not.

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Why Girl Matters matters

Since its invention and introduction by the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center for Girls & Young Women in 2014, Girl Matters has kept roughly 1,900 girls from entering Florida’s detention centers, a 72% reduction in incarcerated girls in Duval — which previously incarcerated more girls than any of Florida’s 67 counties — and has saved the state budget $10.3 million in girl incarceration costs.

A nationally recognized comprehensive continuity-of-care mental health program, Girl Matters serves minor girls age 6-17 through crisis intervention, comprehensive individual care management, professional counseling for girls and their families, and on-site school services. In addition, program staff help local judges develop alternatives to incarceration for girls being adjudicated, often for behaviors most adults don’t consider criminal, such as running away from home, school truancy, and responses to living in fractured families and neighborhoods scarred by poverty and lack of resources.

Girl Matters saves Florida taxpayers $1 million annually. No wonder the program enjoys widespread, bipartisan legislative support.

The head-scratching veto

Which makes the governor’s veto all the more curious. Why deny a girl a penny of support?

It’s puzzling.

Best case scenario is the governor is simply trying to, as he said, “hold the line” on state spending, ensuring that the 2024-25 budget is smaller than last year’s budget. In doing so, he needed to deny funding equitably across the state, regardless of project merit or legislative support.

However, a Tampa Bay Times story suggests our governor denied this tiny, overwhelmingly popular request because the nonprofit organization making the request is named after a woman who has provided financial support to passage of an amendment to Florida’s Constitution that the governor opposes.

Unintended consequences

Whatever the governor’s rationale, it’s vulnerable girls of minority age who are being harmed, along with the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center that serves their long-term interests.

In both cases, these young people and their advocate lack a political voice. The girls do not enjoy the franchise, and the center is prohibited, as a nonprofit, charitable entity, from funding political candidates, campaigns, and issues. As a matter of law and regulation, charitable organizations are mute when it comes to Florida’s politics.

So why deny a program with proven results a penny of support? One that saves girls’ lives and futures and the state of Florida money?

Besides, state support — while critically important to a program that ought to be central to Florida’s approach to juvenile justice, and which saves the state budget money — provides 56% of Girl Matters’ annual cost. Grants from others and individual donors make up the balance.

It’s not only a bargain, it’s a win-win— a successful “public-private partnership,” about which the state of Florida typically boasts.

But hey, the $500,000 veto pales when compared to the $6 million the governor vetoed for school districts to place menstrual hygiene products in school bathrooms and nurses’ offices at no cost to the student. Half the population knows what it means to be surprised, not to mention school-aged first-timers. That program, according to the Tampa Bay Times, enjoyed unanimous support from the Legislature.

Whether intended or not, the governor’s vetoes are punishing girls.

Ask the governor

Send the governor a note. Ask him what he’s got against girls. It won’t change anything, but you might feel better.

This column appears in partnership with the JaxLookout.

author image Jacksonville Today Contributor Sherry Magill founded the JaxLookout in 2018 to reflect on local issues and encourage local citizens to engage as she was retiring from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund presidency, ending a 27-year career in private philanthropy. During her tenure, Magill spearheaded the development of the defunct Haydon Burns Library into the Jessie Ball duPont Center, a nationally recognized nonprofit and philanthropic center. Sherry currently chairs the Local Initiatives Support Corporation-Jacksonville (LISC) advisory committee and the Charles F. Kettering Foundation board and serves as member of the board of directors of Virginia-based Locus Bank.

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