The Florida Senate Education Committee disassembled a massive $25.8 billion House omnibus education bill and then endorsed many of its most significant components one-by-one in individual Senate bills.
The committee on Tuesday also introduced several new amendments of its own – including a requirement that school districts develop programs for on-site armed security officers to get training from local law enforcement, specifically preparing for a school shooting.
The amendment is proposed by Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, less than a week after 17 people were killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County — his district.
“The amendment doesn’t go far enough but, certainly, we think it would help fortify schools,” he said. “This is an opportunity to have the first-responders already in the schools.”
In addition to mandating districts establish school resource officer programs, the “Thurston Amendment” requires districts to formulate procedures for active-shooter situations with training by law enforcement agencies, conduct safety assessments every three years, designate school safety officers at each site, require every school to identify one single, secure point of entry onto its grounds.
Despite its vagaries – such as how much, exactly, it would cost and where the money to pay for it will come from – supporters said legislators could fill in the blanks later, emphasizing alacrity over detail in responding to rising pressure to address school safety.
“There is no harm in taking up this amendment. It begins a discussion on the topic,” Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, said. “Put it in [this bill] and let it move forward with this legislation.”
Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, suggested the amendment be incorporated into a comprehensive school safety package being introduced Thursday by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Majority Leader Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby.
The fast-tracked “Thurston Amendment’s” only stop before a full Senate vote is a review by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday. The House Education Committee will respond to its Senate counterpart’s amendments when it meets Wednesday.
The House approved its entire $87.2 billion budget contingent on the adoption of its 202-page $25.8 billion omnibus education package as one comprehensive bill.
The Senate Education Committee quickly snuffed that proposition when Chair Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, filed a 115-page “strike all” amendment that replaced many items in the massive House bill with individual bills already adopted or being reviewed as stand-alone issues in various Senate committees.
Among distinct differences in the proposed House and Senate education budget is the Senate earmarks a $187 million increase for universities and a $60 million reduction in college funding while the House wants to cut universities by $304 million while increasing spending for colleges by $86 million.
Like the House bill, the original Senate bill would force teachers’ unions to disband if their membership falls below half the employees they represent. But in a 5-4 vote, the committee approved another Thurston amendment to remove the union decertification provision from the education bill and require it to stand alone.
“This is the first time many of us are seeing these proposals,” Thurston said, noting the “problematic” precedent it sets. “Looks like an attack on instructional teachers,” he said. “Remove it [from the bill]. Let it be viewed on its own merit.”
For the most part, despite the procedural intrigue and differences over union decertification, most components within the House omnibus bill are endorsed in stand-alone Senate legislation.
Both chambers’ spending plans expand Bright Futures merit scholarships, strengthen oversight of publicly funded private-school scholarship programs and establish a “Hope Scholarship” voucher program for bullied public-school students funded by car buyers who dedicate part of their sales tax to the scholarships.
In this instance, the committee adopted the House “Hope Scholarship” plan over its own. Rather than levy $20 as the Senate originally proposed, it adopted the $105 tax credit for each transaction in the House proposal. The House bill forecasts it would generate $41.5 million a year for the scholarships.