Parkland school shooting prompts calls for safety improvements

Florida lawmakers set to increase spending on school safety

By Mike Vasilinda - Tallahassee Bureau Chief, Francine Frazier - Senior web producer

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - As a small South Florida community reels from a deadly mass shooting at its neighborhood high school, Florida's governor and lawmakers joined together in a call for change to prevent future tragedy.

“I can’t even say that it necessarily won’t happen again at this point, and I am tired of it. We are all tired of it,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island.

But what change needs to be made remains an intense debate.

Despite skyrocketing enrollment, state funding for school safety hasn't increased in seven years in Florida. This year, the state is spending $64.4 million for school safety measures. 

Of that amount, 83 percent goes to school resource officers, who, by all accounts, are catching potential problems before they explode. 

“We have a weapons-related incident two out of every three days,” said John Mixon, with the Florida Association of School Administrators.

The mass shooting in Parkland has lawmakers, who had been squabbling over an increase in safety funding, ready to open the state's checkbook. 

Gov. Rick Scott said he'll be meeting with state and local leaders in Tallahassee to discuss school safety improvements and how to keep guns away from individuals struggling with mental illness. 

“Our entire state is in mourning, and we have to make sure something like this never happens again,” Scott said. “The violence must stop. We cannot lose another child in this country because of violence in our schools. We need to have a real conversation about public safety and protecting schools in our state.”

The incoming Senate president is proposing $100 million for mental health programs for schools and more to harden them against attacks.

“If a 19-year-old who is mentally ill is able to obtain a gun, we need to review that, and determine what is happening in our system,” Bradley said.

Even if there is more money for school safety, some lawmakers said that’s still not going to be enough.

“What really protects all of us is that an attacker doesn’t know who is armed,” said Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala.

Three weeks ago, a House subcommittee approved legislation calling for training and arming two people in every school. It was enthusiastically passed, but has gone nowhere.

And just as some want to expand gun rights, others want them restricted. The Parkland shooting has sparked a conversation, but whether legislative action will follow remains to be seen.

“We have an opportunity right now during the ongoing legislative session to have this important conversation, and I have spoken to Senate President Negron and House Speaker Corcoran who are incredibly focused on this,” Scott said. “My goal is that these meetings and conversations will help us move forward and protect our schools, our families and our students.”

In addition to money for resource officers, administrators want to upgrade data-mining software that can pick up potential threats on social media. They also said that, until public schools have the money to be safe, the state should stop increasing voucher funding for private schools.

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