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New Florida law will make free swimming lessons available to many kids

child and father in pool
Wilfredo Lee
AP, file
For many parents, the very sound of splashing and swimmers taking a plunge into the deep end, can be very scary.

State officials say the legislation, signed last week by Gov. Ron DeSantis, can save thousands of lives. It covers lessons for families with kids 4 and younger who make "less than 200% of the federal poverty level."

Many parents will soon be able to get their young children free swimming lessons under a new Florida law.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation (SB 544) last week to create the state’s first swimming lesson voucher program for kids.

The legislation covers lessons for families with children4 and under who make "less than 200% of the federal poverty level."

For many parents, the very sound of splashing and swimmers taking a plunge into the deep end can be very scary.

Casey McGovern of Fort Lauderdale lost her 19-month-old daughter in a drowning accident in a backyard pool 15 years ago.

“We were right there all the time," Casey recalls. "It just so happened that afternoon the gate was left open.”

Casey started the McGovern Foundation and began pushing for water safety and kid-friendly swimming lessons with the international nonprofit organization Every Child a Swimmer.

“The stigma attached to it for so many years is that it only happens to parents of a certain demographic, and it doesn’t," Casey told WFSU. "It can happen to anybody at any point.”

In Florida, where much of the state is surrounded by water, unintentional drowning remains one of the leading causes of accidental deaths among children.

According to the Florida Department of Health, Florida has led the nation in drowning deaths among children 1 and 4 years old.

The new law was proposed by Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast, who says swimming lessons saved his nephew from drowning in a family pool.

“Had he not gone through that program, who knows what would’ve happened," said Hutson.

The voucher program will be managed by the state’s Department of Health. The agency will be responsible for establishing a network of swimming lesson providers in every county.

“Over here we do a junior lifeguard camp," Bay County’s Beach Safety Division director Daryl Paul said. "We take kids in, and we teach them for a couple of days about what lifeguards do. We show them how we swim. You need to be exposed to the water. You need to be exposed to the water to learn how to swim.”

The state is putting up $500,000 to get the voucher program off the ground.

It will go into effect July 1.

Copyright 2024 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Adrian Andrews