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State Education Officials Seek More Money For Safety Measures

Woman addressing classroom full of children
Wikimedia Commons
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Florida education officials on Wednesday called on state lawmakers to boost spending on mental health services and armed security in schools, showing a continued focus on safety more than a year after a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. 

The Florida Department of Education’s budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1, includes $100 million in mental-health spending --- a $25 million uptick over the current funding amount.

The state agency’s budget request, approved by the Florida Board of Education on Wednesday, also contains an additional $1.4 million to “maintain” school resource officers in each Florida public school.

“It wasn’t easy --- quite an amazing feat --- but I would like to thankfully report that, at the conclusion of last week, every single public school in the state of Florida, including charter schools, have coverage from school safety officers of some type as allowed by state law,” Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said during Wednesday’s meeting in Fort Lauderdale.

Under sweeping legislation passed shortly after the Feb. 14, 2018 shooting in Parkland, all public schools are required to have trained, armed security personnel onsite.

But up until recently, many schools --- particularly charter schools --- have struggled to comply with that requirement.

In Broward County, more than two dozen charter schools failed to have long-term plans for full-time, armed security by the time the new school year began earlier this month.

And on Tuesday, the Broward County school board took the unprecedented step of taking over a charter school that did not have a security contract in place when classes resumed last week.

“We continue to monitor, and if there is non-compliance, we will move with the tools we have to sanction,” Broward County Superintendent of Schools Robert Runcie told the state board on Wednesday.

Corcoran acknowledged Wednesday that charter schools have struggled to have armed security certified by the state.

“Some of them were having difficulty with training,” Corcoran said. “I would like to thank local law enforcement and school board members for coming together in some many different ways to make this happen.”

The education commissioner said his hope is to expand coverage, which will be “greater and greater” in each school in the future.

The move to increase spending to maintain school safety officers comes days after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission blasted charter schools for not having long-term plans to have armed security on campus.

“The point is that it is clear to everyone in the commission that the best they have done is to play games before school starts,” Polk Sheriff Grady Judd, a member of the commission, said during a meeting of the panel last week.

Runcie, who has faced some of the sharpest criticism for his district’s perceived lapses leading up to and following the 2018 mass shooting at the Parkland school, told the state board on Wednesday that school security is his district’s number one priority.

He also provided an example to the board to demonstrate the importance of state funding for student mental-health services.

“We are hiring over 200 additional psychologists, behavioral specialists, and counselors. It has helped reduce caseload and it helped us to really provide services and impact our students,” Runcie said.