Newtown tragedy prompts effort to boost school security spending in Florida

3:48 PM, Jan 8, 2013   |    comments
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Tallahassee, Florida - Florida school districts will press state lawmakers for an increase in school security funding in the upcoming legislative session as a result of the Newtown tragedy.

The massacre has already prompted security changes in many Florida schools and you can expect more in the coming year as the issue of school security heads to the Legislature.

Florida is spending about $17 billion on K-12 education this year. About $70 million is set aside for school security measures. That cash mainly pays for school resource officers in middle and high schools.

Now there's a push to place more police officers in elementary schools. Hillsborough County is one of several districts across the state working with local law enforcement to put armed officers in grade schools right now.

The Florida School Boards Association will push for an increase in funding for school security in the upcoming legislative session. Executive Director Wayne Blanton says the expanded security measures would cost more than $100 million.

"Some of the districts have put uniformed officers already in elementary schools and that costs a lot of money. But the safety of our students is the number one priority of our public schools and we're going to do everything we can to make sure our schools are even safer than they are now. I will tell you, it's going to be expensive. It would be in excess of $100 million."

Blanton says that money would pay for more school resource officers and building improvements. Infrastructure upgrades might include new locks for classrooms. Blanton says teachers in some Florida schools are unable to lock their classrooms from the inside, which he says makes no sense in a situation similar to Newtown.

"We're looking at how schools are constructed and looking at some other safety features. Some of the teachers have told us they cannot lock their doors from the inside. Maybe that's something we need to look at. Maybe we need a different type of glass. Maybe we need panic buttons in classrooms. There are a lot of things that we can do right now that cost very little to help our safety measures out there in our public schools."

Several school districts are considering asking voters to approve sales tax hikes to pay for school security improvements. Blanton downplays that idea, saying districts should first work to get the Legislature to increase funding for the Safe Schools program.

Blanton also opposes the idea of allowing teachers to carry guns at school to defend themselves and students.

"Teachers serve as role models and one of our concerns is if the role model is walking around with a weapon, what is to say that impressionable young people will not say, 'Well, I can do it too,' whether it be at school or out in the community and we're not going to support that."

Blanton says the School Boards Association has already started working with districts on improving crisis training for teachers and administrators.

As for the legislative session starting in March, he's optimistic state lawmakers will have the political will to direct more funding toward school security following one of the worst school shootings in the nation's history.

Dave Heller

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