Florida legislators reject Gov. Scott on school security
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Despite repeated requests from Florida Gov. Rick Scott, legislative leaders have officially refused to steer $58 million to school districts to help them hire more campus police officers.
Scott in late August asked that legislators shift unused money from the state’s guardian program to pay for more officers. Under the guardian program school districts were eligible to receive money to train school staff to act as armed guardians on school campuses.
But most districts have opted instead to hire officers even though some districts have struggled to come up with enough money to pay for them.
The Republican governor wanted a special legislative panel, which is meeting next week, to approve the money transfer.
But state Sen. Bill Galvano, the incoming Senate president, wrote a letter to Scott on Friday telling him he would not support the request. He said the guardian program is still evolving and more districts may opt into it in the future.
“For the guardian program to truly be vetted and ultimately embraced, I believe the program should maintain its own funding rather than having its funds comingled with other funds available for school safety,” wrote the Bradenton Republican. “I respectfully disagree with your statement that the $58 million in available funding will go to waste if the proposed budget amendment is not adopted.”
Galvano did say that he was open to reviewing the idea again in the near future. Legislators will hold a special organizational session in November following this year’s elections. The next regular session is scheduled to start in March 2019.
After a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February, Scott and the Legislature passed a law making Florida the first state to require all public schools to have armed security on site whenever they’re open.
The state’s 67 countywide districts were given the more expensive choice of hiring additional police officers, also known as school resource officers, or supplementing the officers they already had with the cheaper guardian program. Any money not covered by the state had to be picked up by the districts. Legislators set aside $67 million for guardians, and boosted money for school resource officers by $97 million.
Some districts, however, have said they can’t afford officers and are hiring full-time guardians. These include Broward, Stoneman Douglas’ district. A police officer can cost $100,000 a year in salary and benefits, while guardians are estimated to cost between $30,000 and $50,000. Some districts, mostly in rural parts of the state, are supplementing officers with armed staff who get a $500 stipend, saying their communities support that arrangement.
So far, 22 districts have received $9.3 million out of the $67 million set aside for guardians.
Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat who attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, said he was disappointed that legislators aren’t even considering Scott’s request right now.
“I still have parents who are only seven months away from putting kids in the ground,” Moskowitz said. “I think there’s a compromise here. Let’s give the program more time, but I don’t think the program will use all $58 million between now and March. Let’s put more police officers in schools, let’s harden more schools.”